Research Collaboration Success

Research Collaboration Success


Christopher M. Callahan, MD
Cornelius and Yvonne Pettinga Professor, School of Medicine
Director, Center for Aging Research
Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Three Simple Rules

  1. Researchers collaborate, not research programs.
  2. Create collaborations that will provide you with what is important in your academic environment. For instance, while extramural funding is important at academic medical centers, public presentations of work are important in schools of art, music and drama.
  3. Success requires that all collaborators benefit as measured by what is important in their academic environments.

Three Simple Realities

  1. Silence is not golden. Tension, debate, and conflicts are expected.
  2. Some collaborations fail. If some don’t, you are not taking enough risks.
  3. Collaborations are not forever. They end when a simple rule is violated.

Why Collaborate?

  1. Each of the partners will be more competitive for extramural funding.
  2. The partnership will lead to synergy in discovery.
  3. Stakeholders (researchers, departments, schools, society) will benefit.
  4. It’s fun.

Potential Partners- Good Qualities

  1. Shared vision for a specific research project.
  2. Complementary (synergistic) resources.
  3. Scientific expertise, leadership, or maven.
  4. Research infrastructure, including professional staff.
  5. Research population, samples, database, or toys (technologies, equipment).
  6. Extramural funding.
  7. Intermediary to research resources.
  8. Enjoyable personality is a plus but not a requirement.
  9. Mutual respect is a requirement.

Potential Partners- Poor Qualities

  1. Non-overlapping research focus.
  2. Good will but no specific research project.
  3. Incompatible or conflicting work style.
  4. Ineffective finisher.
  5. Inability to recognize and deal with differences in work style and dynamics.
  6. Questionable integrity.
  7. Functions at a different speed.
  8. Working with incompatible goals.

Ten Steps to Successful Collaborations (1)

  1. Define the goals of the project and expected outcomes.
  2. Communicate face-to-face at the outset.
  3. Communicate often and regularly.
  4. Choose a leader or leadership structure.
  5. Define roles and responsibilities of each participant.
  6. Discuss administration of the budget.
  7. Discuss administration of data.
  8. Identify intellectual property issues.
  9. Discuss publication and authorship plans.
  10. Identify when the project is expected to end.

Reasons for Getting a Rejection When Seeking a Collaboration

  1. Bad timing.
  2. Lack of appreciation of potential partner’s focus, priorities, expertise, or strategic direction.
  3. Maturation, culture, or style differences:
    • Early in their career researchers are promiscuous, willing to take high risks (engage in projects with low probability of success), and willing to collaborate with anyone.
    • By mid-career researchers have become more discerning and targeted.
    • By late career researchers have a full roster of ongoing and planned projects and have no time for new collaborations.
  4. Every “yea” equals a thousand “nays”.

When Junior Faculty Collaborate

  1. Keep both eyes open. Be very clear about the level of risk involved and the time commitment required.
  2. Identify when and how your participation will lead to specific first-authored publications and to submitting a specific grant as Principal Investigator.
  3. A high risk project must be balanced with a low risk project (or two).
  4. High risk, long-term yield, collaborations are for senior researchers only.

Broaden Collaborations to Include

  1. Industry.
  2. State or federal government.
  3. Community agencies and organizations.
  4. Advocacy groups.
  5. Different academic disciplines.

(1) Michelle Stickler, Penn State University,