Collaborative Research

Collaborative Research


Introduction

In this module, you will explore the following aspects of collaborative research:

  1. The nature and function of collaborative research
  2. Challenges and issues in collaborative research
  3. Characteristics of successful research collaborations

Introduction (cont.)

This module focuses on issues of specific importance to collaborative research. However, research conduct guidelines in several other modules in this series are also central to collaborative research: Authorship and data management are particularly relevant. In addition, mentoring is often a component of collaborations that include students along with senior researchers.

Introduction (cont.)

The module consists of:

Case Study

Click on the image below to read the case study for this module.

Nature & Function of Collaborative Research

“Collaboration” comes from the Latin words for “working” and “with.” Collaborative research is the participation of more than one person in the significant aspects of a research project. The scale can range from the interaction of a single mentor and graduate student, to large international consortia involving research teams spanning multiple continents.

Nature & Function (cont.)

Because much contemporary research involves a range of skills and knowledge rarely found in one person, collaboration can be essential to the success of a research study.

Major research projects such as space missions, high-energy physics, genome mapping and analysis, database design and construction, and large-scale clinical trials and engineering projects commonly require multi-institutional and/or international collaboration. There are also large collaborative projects in the social sciences and in the humanities.

Collaborative research is often, though not necessarily, interdisciplinary.

Nature & Function (cont.)

Not every instance of people working together represents truly collaborative research, however. For example, the following situations would generally not qualify:

Nature & Function (cont.)

Antoine Lavoisier noted as long ago as 1793, that "Most of the work still to be done in science and the useful arts is precisely that which needs knowledge and cooperation of many scientists...that is why it is necessary for scientists and technologists to meet...even those in branches of knowledge which seem to have least relation and connection with one another" (cited in Macrina, 2000).

Modern research is increasingly collaborative, particularly with the rise of interdisciplinary projects, and the development of instrumentation and databases that are too large and complex for a single individual or research team to manage alone.

Nature & Function (cont.)

The advantages of collaborative research include, but are not limited to:

Nature & Function (cont.)

Recognizing these advantages, funding agencies and academic institutions increasingly emphasize collaborative research.

Nature & Function (cont.)

There are many reasons to collaborate – from personal preference to the need for techniques, resources, and ideas from many different individuals and fields. Three major incentives identified by Maienschein (1993) are:

Challenges in Collaborative Research

Due to the complexity of many collaborations, collaborative research can pose significant administrative and professional challenges. Some of the most common and important are:

Challenges (cont.)

Researchers in traditional academic departments may encounter administrative challenges when they collaborate with individuals outside their departments. These can include:

Challenges (cont.)

Researchers may face a number of important professional issues when engaged in collaborative research, especially with off-campus colleagues. These include, but are not limited to:

Such issues may be especially complex when working with colleagues in different research sectors, and/or internationally.

Challenges (cont.)

Important aspects of research culture and practices tend to differ between different sectors of the research community, such as academia, government, industry, and research institutes. Many of these arise from the disparate missions of such entities. Key areas of disparity are:

Academic environments stress full disclosure and sharing of results, training, and open publication. In contrast, industrial research often operates under conditions of limited disclosure and proprietary restrictions, which are designed to lead to a profitable, marketable product or process.

Challenges (cont.)

MTAs set forth conditions for the use of research materials arising from or associated with a particular project. These include aspects such as:

MTAs typically require the signature of an official who is legally authorized to represent the institution.

Challenges (cont.)

Researchers involved in international research collaborations face unique challenges, such as:

Successful Collaborations

Despite challenges presented by collaborative research, there are many successful and productive research collaborations. Some characteristics of such collaborations are:

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

According to Bozeman and Youtie (2017), the components of good research collaborations include:

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

As large collaborative projects become increasingly frequent and important, researchers are paying more attention to analyzing how they work, and how to foster successful collaborations.

For example, the lead analysis coordinator for the international ENCODE consortium charged with “building up an encyclopedia of functional DNA elements to be used as a reference for the scientific community” reported that effective collaborative research “relies on the good will of all” and “requires all participants to buy into a structure, a code of conduct and the goal of high-quality data that are made accessible and usable to all scientists around the world” (Birney, 2012, emphasis added).

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Organizations that fund collaborative research have a strong interest in fostering its long-term success. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed a freely accessible “field guide” to collaborative research. According to the office's website,

Collaboration and Team Science: A Field Guide was developed to help researchers navigate some of the rocky and murky territory associated with building a team either on their own or at the request of someone in their organization. It is intended for anyone who is currently participating on or leading a research team, considering becoming involved in a research team, or contemplating building a research team.

Numerous other organizations offer helpful resources, many of which are available on the UNH RCR Library Guide.

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Goals that are clearly stated and that are agreed to by all parties at the beginning of a collaboration are essential for success. Goals should be revised as necessary and in a timely manner, with the full participation and agreement of all parties.

Open, candid, ongoing communication is vital to the success of collaborative research. This includes discussions of:

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

In order to avoid confusion and ensure smooth coordination of activities, the responsibilities of each group as a whole and of each individual within the group should be clearly defined and articulated at the beginning of a project. The agreement, preferrably written, should address areas such as:

NIH provides an excellent template for a “partnering agreement,” with a detailed list of issues that should be addressed as a collaboration is being launched.

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Developing estimates of the timing and duration of the study at the beginning of a collaboration helps to coordinate activities and ensure that deadlines are met. Schedules established at the beginning of the collaboration should be periodically reviewed and all individuals involved apprised of any adjustments.

Disclosure of potential conflicts of interest or commitment during initial negotiations and as they arise during the collaboration is important to protecting researchers’ reputations from potentially harmful allegations of unethical behavior. Allegations against a single researcher in a collaborative study may taint the entire collaboration and all its participants.

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Participants in a collaboration must be accountable for their actions; beyond the usual requirements of individual responsibility (which of course still apply), collaborators are accountable to the entire group. Responsibilities to the group include, but are not limited to:

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

All individuals in a collaboration must be aware of, and comply with, funding agency regulations regarding use of funds, such as transfer of funds between budget lines. This is particularly important for participants in extramurally funded, multi-institutional collaborative studies. Further, within institutions researchers should develop written agreements at the time of award about how funds will be allocated to different individuals/sub-projects to avoid conflicts or misunderstandings during the project.

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Discussion of authorship and publication issues during the establishment of a collaboration and periodically throughout the formal association helps to prevent misunderstanding and disagreement later in the study.

Issues pertaining to authorship include, but are not limited to:

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Addressing issues regarding the sharing, custody, and ownership of research data during the development of a collaboration helps to prevent misunderstanding and disagreement later in a study. Agreements about data sharing, custody, and ownership, such as who will have custody of which data, should be put in writing and disseminated to all collaboration participants, and kept updated.

To ensure success of a research project, Corti et al. (2014) state "It is crucial that [data management] roles and responsibilities are assigned and not just presumed" (p. 29). This is especially important in collaborative research projects. A data management checklist is a useful tool to employ at the start of a research project to ensure that all pertinent issues have been identified and addressed, and that an indivdiual has been assigned to each.

Successful Collaborations (cont.)

Issues regarding the sharing, custody, and ownership of data are especially important in multi-institutional studies. They include, but are not limited to:

Review Scenario 1

Scenario: Two graduate students decide to collaborate on a project that is only slightly related to their dissertation work, but that interests both of them. They get it started, plan several experiments, start collecting data, and even discuss where they might eventually want to publish. As time goes on, however, one student becomes absorbed in finishing his dissertation and gradually stops working on the joint project. The second student still wants to finish and publish it, and may even be able to include it as a chapter in her dissertation. Which of the following should the second student do (check all that apply)?
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Incorrect.
Incorrect.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
You have selected all of the correct statements.

Review Scenario 2

Scenario: Sally Mae and Bob are faculty members at an institution and are relatively new collaborators in the area of neurodegeneration research. Bob’s lab has a long and successful track record, particularly in the area of obtaining federal funding, and a long list of publications; his lab also has several patents resulting from their work. Sally is a relatively new investigator; her work, stemming from her dissertation research, focuses on the development of nutritional supplements to alleviate dementia, which is a new area for Bob’s lab. They receive a significant grant with Bob as principal investigator (PI), in part because of the reviewers’ confidence in his lab’s track record. Bob and Sally successfully develop a supplement that shows great promise in the treatment of cognitive decline. He explains to Sally that before he informs the funding agency of the final results, he will prepare the patent application. Sally wants to apply for a grant in nine months, and feels she needs to publish a paper including the study results before then to include in the grant application. She expresses her concern to Bob. Although he understands Sally's need to publish, he is a strong believer in the value of patent protection. Sally is deeply worried. Which of the following statements are correct (check all that apply)?
Incorrect.
Incorrect.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
You have selected all of the correct statements.

Review Scenario 3

Scenario: Louise, Mark, and Nathan are three faculty members at the same institution, collaborating on a three-year grant-funded project. Louise is the principal investigator (PI) for the grant, and other two are co-PIs. The three agree informally to meet monthly to discuss progress, but Mark frequently misses these meetings as he is travelling, he says, for the project. In monitoring the grant budget statements each month, Louise sees that Mark is spending more than his agreed upon allocation of the funding but she does not question him about it as he appears to be working a lot on the project. Near to the end of the first year of the grant, she asks Nathan and Mark for their contributions to the year-end report for the sponsor. Nathan supplies his, but Mark does not. Louise gets increasingly frustrated; she hasn’t seen Mark in nearly three months and he doesn’t respond to her emails. One morning she sees him in the building and she confronts him about his contribution to the report. He provides an explanation, and promises to email it to her by the end of that day; her report is due in two days. When Mark gets it to her early on the morning her report is due, she sees that he has not completed three of the four tasks for which he is responsible. Which of the following statements are correct (check all that apply)?
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Incorrect.
Incorrect.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
You have selected all of the correct statements.

Review Scenario 4

Scenario: Gizella, a native of Flavia, an Eastern European country, is now a US citizen and a faculty member at a university in the US. She has conducted research in her birth country for the last three summers. During her last visit, she met Margit, a researcher based at a university in Flavia and whose research is related to Gizella’s. They discuss collaborating on two papers. Upon her return to the US, Gizella emails Margit her nearly complete paper for Margit to add some content. They agree via email for Gizella to be first author because Gizella conducted most of the research reported in the paper and she wrote most of the paper. They submit the article ~ in English and in Flavian (Margit translates the paper) ~ to an online journal based in Flavia. In checking the journal website after publication of their paper, Gizella sees that while she is first author on the English version of the paper, Margit is first author on the translated version. She emails Margit, who responds that there was a mix up and she is working with the editor to correct the author order. Several weeks later, the change has not been made so Gizella emails the editor. The editor responds that there was not a mix up; Margit is first author because she translated the paper, and he is not going to change the order. When Gizella protests that translating a paper does not merit being first author, the editor responds that it does in his journal; that she should not apply US publishing standards to Flavia. When Gizella next checks the journal website, she sees that the English version of the paper has been removed, leaving available to readers only the translated version with Margit as first author. What steps should Gizella consider next (check all that apply)?
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Incorrect.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
Correct. However, another answer exists.
You have selected all of the correct statements.

Case Study Review

Click on the image below to see the case study that was presented at the beginning of this module.

Congratulations!

Once you have finished all of the review questions click ’Certify Completion’.

Certify Completion