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IV. Connecting With a Potential Collaborator

Aug 31, 2018 by Claire Renaud

Once you have identified a potential collaborator, you will need to reach out so you can gauge that individual's interest in working with you. You will need to:

  • Decide how to approach your potential collaborator
  • Strategize how to present your proposal to your potential collaborator

Decide How to Approach Your Potential Collaborator

If your potential collaborator is located nearby, you might suggest a meeting over coffee or lunch to start discussing your idea for collaborating. If you don’t know the individual, introducing yourself and your idea face-to-face may be more convincing than reaching out via email. It is possible to reach out via email, of course, but it may be best if you can secure an in-person meeting during a conference that you both attend and introduce yourself there. Even if the person ends up not being interested in collaborating or cannot contribute as much as you anticipated, at least you will have had an engaging intellectual conversation on that topic.

Strategize How to Present Your Proposal to Your Potential Collaborator

After deciding how to approach a potential collaborator, develop a plan for how to present your idea. If you know the person, you might get away with pitching the idea of a collaboration during an informal conversation. However, if you don’t know the person, you will need to put more thought into how to pitch your idea and the collaboration itself.

When you are ready to ask someone to collaborate with you, be prepared to:

  • sketch out what the individual would gain from collaborating on this project
  • articulate a specific vision for the project (rather than a mere suggestion like “I’d like to collaborate with you.”)
  • project a sense of your enthusiasm for this project
  • demonstrate how you would be as a leader of the project
  • lay out the kind of commitment needed to participate in this project

Finally, whether your potential collaborator is someone you know or someone you don’t know, be sure to consider ways to assess whether this collaborator will be a good fit for you personally and for the requirements of your project.  

Gauge interest. When you are initiating a collaboration with someone, you need to gauge the person’s actual level of interest. To ensure that your collaborator is invested and committed, begin by proposing shorter timelines with small, specific goals and a schedule of regular meetings to ensure that your collaborator is meeting your deadlines and expectations. If your collaborator cannot keep up, initiate a conversation to see if the individual still wants to be a part of the collaboration and to determine what’s causing the delay or lack of production. Be realistic in what you ask from your collaborator, but also be firm so that the project can move along in a reasonable amount of time.

Weigh time commitments. The success of a collaboration is critically dependent on your collaborator’s (and your own) time commitments. Since you are initiating this collaboration (and thus leading the project), you should be prepared to do the heavy lifting on the project, especially at first. You will be responsible for ensuring the feasibility of the project and for offering a timeline for its completion. You probably should expect to devote more time to this project to show your commitment—that is, be prepared to be a leader by example. Chances are that this will motivate your collaborator to work on this collaboration more than if you don’t show any investment yourself.

To summarize, when proposing a collaboration, you will need to have a topic in mind along with a possible outcome (e.g., publication, conference presentation) as well as a well-conceived plan as to how you envision the collaboration will work so that you can provide some practical details to your soon-to-be collaborator. Moreover, before moving forward with a potential collaborator, make sure to assess the individual's interest and level of commitment to the project to determine whether this person is the right fit for you and for this project.

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