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Academic Coaching & Writing

II. Deciding Whether to Collaborate

Aug 17, 2018 by Claire Renaud

Your first step in developing a successful collaboration is to thoroughly weigh whether or not to collaborate. This blog will highlight some of the most important considerations to help you reach a more informed decision.

What Challenges Will You Encounter?

First and foremost, a collaboration is like any relationship and collaborating with another person is not always easy. Your collaborator may or may not always agree with you in terms of the time commitments or the manner in which to go about the project. Additionally, different types of collaborations (long-distance vs. local) bring about their own challenges.

Time commitments may not match. The first issue you may run into is that your time commitments and those of your collaborator may not always be in sync. Regardless of other commitments, both you and your collaborator will have to make some efforts to ensure that the project moves along to its completion to the best of your ability and availability. If your collaborator is less committed to the project, you may have to step in to ensure that the project is completed successfully. You may have to send multiple reminders, adjust deadlines, or initiate difficult conversations to reevaluate your collaborator’s role in the project. And, sometimes you may have to take over part of your collaborator’s responsibilities to ensure that the project moves along according to plan.

Working styles may differ. The second potential issue when working with others is that you may work very differently from one another. To give but one example, you may be very organized and work steadily toward deadlines, whereas, your collaborator may be a last-minute person who often misses deadlines or forgets to send updates. Knowing how you work best and knowing how your collaborator works best will prove extremely helpful as you design the best way to work together. If your collaborator is uncomfortable using a specific technology, you may want to stay away from it or minimize its use so that the project isn’t affected, and your collaborator doesn’t feel left out or frustrated. While you will not be able to satisfy everyone’s preferences at all times, you can do your best to reach a compromise that allows for the best path toward the success of the project. By putting a plan in place to ensure that the project moves along smoothly, you should be able to manage many of these differences.

Proximity may matter. Another issue you may confront is the location of your collaborator. Is it important to you that your collaborator is local so that you can have impromptu, face-to-face meetings if needed? If so, then, you may want to focus on a collaborator at your university or another university in the area.

Will Collaboration Advance Your Academic Career Goals?

Another important consideration when deciding whether or not to collaborate is how it potentially impacts your academic career goals.

Is collaboration common in your field? If collaboration is uncommon in your field, is it at least accepted? If you want to be a groundbreaker and start collaborating in a field that is accustomed to solo-authorship, make sure that this fits within your larger career goals. If collaboration is not accepted in your field, then it probably will not count toward your tenure and/or promotion. If this is important to you, you should probably reconsider your decision to collaborate. However, if collaboration is accepted in your field, then it will most likely count toward your tenure and/or promotion. In many cases, a collaboration will not count as much as a solo-authored paper. If you are unsure whether collaborations will count toward tenure and/or promotion at your university, clarify if they count and how much they count with your department chair.

Does order of authorship impact your tenure or promotion prospects? When it comes to the tenure and/or promotion process, find out whether a collaboration weighs the same if you are first or second author. Often, it does play a role. In all collaborative work, especially if you are not the first author, you should be able to clearly articulate your contribution to the project. It is very common to include on your CV a percentage describing the amount of effort and time put into the project.

If you have never had the opportunity to collaborate but you are ready for the challenge and it aligns with your career goals, how should you get started? The next post will provide some guidelines on how to begin.

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