The keys to a successful collaboration

[By: Julia Mermier] 

This post relates my experience of collaboration with Joanna – the MOTION PhD student from Radboud University – and what I think is essential to make a collaboration successful.

The choice of the collaborator
One of the key to a successful collaboration is the choice of a good work partner. You might have the best research project in the world, if your partner is not competent or if you’re not work-compatible, your project might fail. In the case of the MOTION project, the task wasn’t too hard, as I immediately got along – on a working and personal point of view – with most of the other PhD students. In the end, Joanna and I decided to start a collaboration, as we had the most common interests. And it turned out to be a great choice, as we’re currently carrying out our study together in my university in Milan.

So, how to find the ideal collaborator? First, you have to find someone who has the same scientific interests as you, and who wants to work on the same topic. Then, of course, you also need someone who has good research skills, ideally complementary to yours. But outside of the practical aspects, the personal side is also essential for a successful collaboration.  Working with someone you get along with, with whom you can communicate and work efficiently, but also sit back and laugh when needed, is very important. Because you will spent a lot of time together, and because there will always be difficulties to overcome. Doing all of this in a good atmosphere is so much easier!

The importance of being well organized
Good organization is also fundamental for a successful collaboration, especially when the two collaborators live in different countries, like Joanna (Netherlands) and I (Italy). Because of the distance, we had to design the whole study via emails and video-conferences. We first started sharing broad ideas and articles on various topics via email, and gradually narrowed down the possibilities until we decided on a specific topic. Then, we had to organize several video-conferences to define a research question and design the study, and several others to set up the procedure, and discuss every single detail with our respective supervisors.

Once the study was ready, we had to set up the practical details: find a desk for Joanna, find a time slot in the lab for our testings, but above all, find an apartment in Milan for Joanna! And this was no easy task, given the accommodation situation in Milan! But again, thanks to a lot of organization, communication, and help from other people, we achieved all of it!

Communication- transmit your knowledge and learn from the other
Communication is a crucial element of a good collaboration. Because in the end, the point of a collaboration is to exchange knowledge, to benefit both collaborators, and to benefit science! In the case of the MOTION project, a PhD student goes for a period of 3+ months to another university, where he/she will work on a study with the local PhD student. This means that the receiving students will have to explain the functioning of the lab, the handle of the material, the data analysis, etc. to the visiting students. In exchange, the visiting students can bring his/her own input and help improve the local practice. This requires a lot of communication, a lot of patience from both sides, and some good teaching and learning skills. But it is worth it!

Take-home message
Of course, there are a lot of other factors that can make your collaboration a success or a failure, and unfortunately, a good partner, organization and communication are not sufficient. But they are essential to make it work. I am glad that I found a collaborator like Joanna, and I enjoy working with her on this new exciting study. I hope this collaboration will be a big success! Now, let’s hope that the babies will collaborate with us 😉

Victoria (Bicocca Milan), Joanna (Radboud) and Julia (Bicocca) doing some sightseeing in Milan during Joanna’s visiting period in Italy