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Ten Simple Rules for a Successful Collaboration Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

How to collaborate successfully

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Given that collab­oration is crucial, how do you go about picking the right collab­ora­tors, and how can you best make the collab­oration work? Here are ten simple rules based on our experience that we hope will help. Above all, keep in mind that these rules are for both you and your collab­ora­tors. Always remember to treat your collab­orators as you would want to be treated yourse­lf—­empathy is key.

Rule 1: Don't Be Lured into Just Any Collab­oration

Learn to say no, even if it is to an attractive grant that would involve signif­icant amounts of money and/or if it is a collab­oration with someone more establ­ished and well-k­nown. It is easier to say no at the beginn­ing—the longer an ill-fated collab­oration drags on, the harder it is to sever, and the worse it will be in the end. Enter a collab­oration because of a shared passion for the science, not just because you think getting that grant or working with this person would look good on your curriculum vitae. Attending meetings is a perfect opport­unity to interact with people who have shared interests. Take time to consider all aspects of the potential collab­ora­tion. Ask yourself, will this collab­oration really make a difference in my research? Does this grant constitute a valid motivation to seek out that collab­ora­tion? Do I have the expertise required to tackle the proposed tasks? What priority will this teamwork have for me? Will I be able to deliver on time? If the answer is no for even one of these questions, the collab­oration could be ill-fated

Rule 2: Decide at the Beginning ...

Decide at the Beginning Who Will Work on What Tasks
Carefully establ­ishing the purpose of the collab­oration and delegating respon­sib­ilities is priceless. Often the collab­oration will be defined by a grant.
In that case, revisit the specific aims regularly and be sure the respective respon­sib­ilities are being met. Otherwise, consider writing a memo of unders­tan­ding, or, if that is too formal, at least an e-mail about who is respon­sible for what. Given the delegation of tasks, discuss expect­ations for authorship early in the work. Having said that, leave room for evolution over the course of the collab­ora­tion. New ideas will arise. Have a mutual unders­tanding up-front such that these ideas can be embraced as an extension of the original collab­ora­tion. Discuss adjust­ments to the timelines and the order of authors on the final published paper, accord­ingly. In any case, be comfor­table with the antici­pated credit you will get from the work. The history of science is littered with stories of unackn­owl­edged contri­but­ions.


Rule 3: Stick to Your Tasks

Scientific research is such that every answered question begs a number of new questions to be answered. Do not digress into these new questions without first discussing them with your collab­ora­tors. Do not change your initial plans without discussing the change with your collab­ora­tors. Thinking they will be pleased with your new approach or innovation is often misplaced and can lead to conflict

Rule 4: Be Open and Honest

Share data, protocols, materials, etc., and make papers accessible prior to public­ation. Remain available. A trusting relati­onship is important for the collab­orative unders­tanding of the problem being tackled and for the subsequent joint thinking throughout the evolution of the collab­oration

Rule 5: Feel Respect, Get Respect

If you do not have respect for the scientific work of your collab­ora­tors, you should definitely not be collab­ora­ting. Respect here especially means playing by Rules 2–4. If you do not respect your collab­ora­tors, it will show. Likewise, if they don't respect you. Look for the signs. The signs will depend on the person­ality of your collab­orators and range from being aggressive to being passiv­e–a­ggr­essive. For example, getting your tasks done in a timely manner should be your priority. There is nothing more frustr­ating for your collab­orators than to have to throttle their progress while they are waiting for you to send them your data. Showing respect would be to inform your collab­orator when you cannot make a previously agreed­-upon deadline, so that other arrang­ements can be made.

Rule 6: Commun­icate, Commun­icate, & Commun­icate

Consistent commun­ication with your collab­orators is the best way to make sure the partne­rship is going in the planned direction. Nothing new here, it is the same as for friendship and marriage. Commun­ication is always better face-t­o-face if possible, for example by traveling to meet your collab­ora­tors, or by scheduling discussion related to your collab­ora­tions during confer­ences that the people involved will attend. Synchr­onous commun­ication by telephone or video teleco­nfe­rencing is preferred over asynch­ronous collab­oration by e-mail (data could be exchanged by e-mail prior to a call so that everyone can refer to the data while talking).

Rule 7: Protect Yourself from a Bad Collab­oration

The excitement of a new collab­oration can often quickly dissipate as the first hurdles to any new project appear. The direct conseq­uence can be a progre­ssive lack of interest and focus to get the job done. To avoid the subsequent frustr­ations and resentment that could even impact your work in general, give three chances to your collab­orators to get back on track. After all, your collab­orators could just be having a difficult time for reasons outside of their control and unanti­cipated at the time the collab­oration started. After three chances, if it feels like the collab­oration cannot be saved, move on. At that point try to minimize the role of your collab­orators in your work: think carefully about the most basic help you need from them and get it while you can (e.g., when having a phone call or a meeting in person). You may still need to deal with the co-aut­hor­ship, but hopefully for one paper only!

Rule 8: Always Acknow­ledge & Cite Collab­orators

This applies as soon as you mention prelim­inary results. Be clear on who undertook what aspect of the work being reported. Additi­onally, citing your collab­orators can reveal your dynamism and your skills at developing prosperous profes­sional relati­ons­hips. This skill will be valued by your peers throughout your career.

Rule 9: Seek Advice from Experi­enced Scientists

Even though you may not encounter severe diffic­ulties that would result in the failure of the partne­rship, each collab­oration will come with a particular set of challe­nges. To overcome these obstacles, interact with colleagues not involved in the work, such as your former advisors or professors in your department who have probably been through all kinds of collab­ora­tions. They will offer insightful advice that will help you move beyond the current crisis. Remember, however, that a crisis can occasi­onally lead to a breakt­hrough. Do not, therefore, give up on the collab­oration too easily.

Rule 10: If Collab­oration Satisfies, Keep It Going

Ever wondered why a pair of authors has published so many papers together? Well, it is like any good recipe: when you find one that works, you cook it again and again. Successful teamwork will tend to keep flouri­shi­ng—the first paper will stimulate deeper and/or broader studies that will in turn lead to more papers. As you get to know your collab­ora­tors, you begin to understand work habits, strengths but also weakne­sses, as well as respective areas of knowledge. Accepting these things and working together can make the work advance rapidly, but do not hurry: it takes time and effort from both sides to get to this point.