10 Rules of Good Collaborating

10. Communicate with your collaborators.

9. Do not repeat the same work as your collaborator, for lack of communication (see rule #10).

8. Acknowledge your collaborators contributions, both in print and in presentations.

7. Do not endlessly ask your collaborators to provide you with reagents you are never planning to use and will just duplicate anyway.

6. If there are explicit expectations in the collaboration, make sure you do your part. If you can’t do your part for some reason- see #10.

5. If there are explicit boundaries in the collaboration, stay within the lines, The lines are your friend. If you can’t do that, see #10.

4. Share your data with your collaborator. Most of us are data junkies and just love to SEE it for the sheer joy of it.

3.  Don’t write grants using unpublished collaborative resources without telling your collaborator. That is just dishonest. See #10.

2. Don’t be demanding of your collaborator- we all have busy lives and many times things take longer than we wish they would.

1. See #10.

Add your own rule.


11 thoughts on “10 Rules of Good Collaborating

  1. Don’t take data from a rockstar doctoral student to give it to a lazy doctoral student who’s dissertation “needs a publication” to pass their defense and get outta PIs hair.

    Don’t pit students or postdocs against each other.

    Don’t forget to inform students and postdocs when outside collaborators are visiting the lab. There’s nothing funner than coming into your office to find a collaborator you’ve never met rummaging through your desk and computer for files that you don’t have. Even better, when they bring a shitload of work for you to do as you are wrapping up the *final* draft of the paper to be submitted over the holidays. See #10.

  2. I think respect is the key. But the key to building trust and respect is good communication and flexibility. It’s pretty rare for a collaboration with good lines of communication to go poorly, and, when it does, it is usually for reasons out of everyone’s control.

    Like this list alot.

  3. A while back I wrote a blog post on collaborations from the post-doc point of view. I think they are super important because

    a. they beef up the cv and
    b. they show you know how to successfully interact with colleagues.

    I do think, however, a fair number of collaborations in my field end up going nowhere so it’s important to have multiple projects. My role, however, follows a gaussian distribution of effort. The mean effort expended depends on the set of collaborators. If I thought that my collaborators put their ambitions ahead of everything, then I won’t put a lot of effort into a project. This is because I know in the end, I will probably be unsatisfied with the authorship outcome. On the other hand, I am currently working with 2 sets of respectful collaborators. And it’s a joy. If they ask me to do a task, then I try to do it in a timely fashion.


  4. jc- Quite.

    JD- I agree, mutual respect is incredibly important.

    GirlPostdoc- I agree. When they work well they can be amazing.

  5. If this is a funded collaboration (i.e. a grant subcontract), don’t spend those dollars on reagents/equipment/items irrelevant to the collaboration.

    If joint grant-writing is a part of this collaboration, please don’t be last-minute about it. Yes, we are all busy, and yes, each of us has our own threshold for procrastination. But NIH deadlines are the same 3 days per year and have been for eons. There is no excuse.

  6. Addendum to Rule #10: the communication has to work between labs as well as within each lab. PIs who set up collaborations, should make clear to their trainees what the expectations, boundaries and division-of-labor decisions are.

    I’ve seen too many students and postdocs wind up doing work for collaborations whose parameters are completely unknown to them, which usually results in them worrying about (1) whose project it really is, (2) who’s doing what on this project, (3) what the overall goal is, (4) why they haven’t heard anything back after sending off their data three weeks ago, etc.

  7. some write a contract to make sure terms and conditions are followed. i have also seen collaborators that would want to steal technique and later ditch u….which makes me awfully mad.

  8. Excellent post, DrDrA. I have an intense urge to comment further, but I fear it falls into unbloggable territory (although I have not entered it personally).

  9. I would rephrase number six as follows:

    “If you are part of a collaboration, you are surely expected to do something. Make sure you know what it is, and !@#$%^ do it. If you cannot (be bothered to) do it, at least have the decency not to hold the work back, and not whine if your name is taken off the author list in the end.”

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