Collaborations are funny. Not "haha" funny, though.
Candid Engineer has a post up about the good side of collaborations and she brings up a lot of important points. There is, however, a flip side to the collaboration coin: you're in bed with someone, for better or for worse.
In the last month I have experienced the full range of the good, bad and ugly of working with others and every collaborative venture brings it's own baggage - sometimes the bag opens and papers just fall out and other times it's like one of those screaming letters in Harry Potter. The thing is, you can't always tell how they're going to end at the start.
I really do enjoy collaborating with people, but there are a lot of factors to take into account when starting an collaboration during a career stage where the assplosion of said collaboration would wipe out a huge piece of your resources. Oddly, I haven't found many patterns associated with good vs. bad collaborations, but have had a lot of luck working with other productive people at similar carer stages as myself. However, even in my relatively short PI life, there are several types of collaborations I have found myself in.
1) The other half of the ladder.
I'm having the good fortune to be experiencing this type right now on this trip. This is the type of collaboration where the longer you sit together in a room, the more productive you become. As each person gets to the limit of how far they can push the work, the next person uses their experience to take it to the next level. IME, this is the rarest type of collaboration, but the kind that makes all the rest worth it. I'll be leaving here with half a paper written, the outline of another and the tools to churn out several more. Well worth the price of admission.
2) The complement.
These are projects where each person brings in a different tool and the sum is greater than the parts. These are productive and useful, without quite reaching the echelon of type 1.
3) The asymmetry.
You know when one day you look around and realize that you're doing 90% of the work for 10% of the credit? These types of "collaborations" seem to be more prevalent in the early career stages....
4) The hoover.
Worst. Collaboration. Ever. Nothing ever gets done the way you need it to and the amount of time and energy these suck out of your life far exceeds any potential benefit. The offending partner might disappear for large chunks of time or just at the worst possible moments. These interaction make you want to become a scientific hermit and move you lab to a shack in the woods (or maybe in a volcano lair....). The earlier you can cut the chord, the better.
Learning to collaborate can open your work up in new and exciting ways, but learning ways to avoid or cut off bad collaborations can be the difference between an inconvenience and a serious problem.