The types of collaborations

Jan 18 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

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.

8 responses so far

  • HennaHonu says:

    Very interesting ranking system. I would like more information on how to tell which collaboration will be which early on, if you have any suggestions.

    Also, I think you may mean "cord" rather than "chord".

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I wish I had advice for you, but I've had collaborations I was concerned about turn out well and vice versa. Maybe some with more experience will have some better guidelines.

    And, BTW, correcting my spelling is a full time job, so better to just ignore it. What's wrong with chord? I like guitars.

  • Jen says:

    Congratulations on your productive trip - that kind of collaboration can be very recharging - hope it continues!! I've participated in two formal collaborations, both as a grad student. They were both in the asymmetry/complement range - not bad (I did get two authorships out of it), but not terribly satisfying either (dealing with dissension between the other two authors). I tend to be a people-pleaser/peace-keeper, which means I'm always worried I'll end up in the asymmetry/hoover range of a collaboration (just like those good ol' days of Group Projects as an undergrad, where one or two students do the vast majority of the work and everyone gets equal credit).

  • Odyssey says:

    I've been on the bad end of the hoover and it's worse than a assplosion (gotta use that word more often!). Right now, however, I'm involved in a complement collaboration that's showing signs of becoming the other half of the ladder. That makes me very, very happy.

  • Cashmoney says:

    ...and sometimes your grand experiments don' t work out.
    Why would a collaboration, qua collaboration, be any
    different?

  • Working with a hoover can be a total time suck, for sure. I've found that some of my best collaborations have been recommended to me from coworkers who I trust, and who have great things to say about my future collaborator (who they've collaborated with as well). This scheme has only failed me once, but has led to several manuscripts so the pro's to the approach have so far outweighed the con's.

    Like you, I've also found that working with people in their "hungry stage" (the same as me) has resulted in more pubs than heartache. I hope that as our careers progress the relationship will mature and we'll hit great impact subjects as well.

  • antipodean says:

    The "ha ha" in the funny way test works round here. If the collabs have a sense of humour we normally all get along.

  • thehermitage says:

    As a n00by n00b I've always found it impossible to figure out where on the ladder said collaborations end up. Maybe I'm just a cranky pants.

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