Interdisciplinary Collaborations Module 1: Getting Started

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As the frontiers of knowledge are pushed back the problems get more and more difficult, often requiring large, complex teams -frequently multidisciplinary- to make progress."

(Olson et al., 2000)

Getting Started

What is Collaboration?

  • Collaboration is a process by which individuals work jointly to accomplish a goal.
    • Collaboration frequently involves intellectual endeavors
    • Collaboration implies that all participants bring something unique and valuable to the project
    • Collaboration implies benefit to all parties

What Collaboration is not

  • Use of another's resources in the absence of mutual interest or benefit to those providing the resources
  • Receiving training in unfamiliar procedures from a more experienced researcher
  • Mentoring of a junior researcher by a senior researcher

Why Collaborate?

  • Gain access to broader resources (Olson et al., 2000 )
  • Material resources
    • Libraries
    • Data bases
    • Special instrumentation
  • Intellectual resources
    • Other scientists knowledge
    • Methodological skills

Why Collaborate?

  • Involve students in research
  • Experience
    • With other disciplines
    • With other research methods
    • With other theoretical perspectives
  • Networking
    • An important aspect of the doctoral experience
    • It's never too late

Why Collaborate?

  • Maintain existing relationships
  • Foster career
    • Increase number of publications
    • Establish valuable relationships

Why Collaborate?

  • Change process of research
    • Combined efforts yield higher quality research (Kraut et al., 1988)
    • Facilitates dissemination of results (Crane, 1972)
    • Fun! (Kraut et al., 1988)

How to Find a Collaborator

  • Common Methods
    • "Friendship" method (Kraut et al., 1988)
      • Chance meeting that fosters mutual liking
      • Decide to work together
    • "Courtship" method (Kraut et al., 1988)
      • Seek out author based on his previous work/reputation
      • Propose collaboration
    • "Blind date" method
      • Collaboration set up/encouraged by 3rd party

How to Find a Collaborator

  • Select a doctoral program that encourages collaboration
  • Network
  • Develop research skills that will attract collaborators
  • Contact others
  • Only engage in collaborations that benefit you
    • Timing
    • Resources
    • Interpersonal interactions
  • Do not initiate unless prepared to follow through

How to Find a Collaborator

  • Geographical Proximity
  • Peer relationship
    • Within department
    • Interdepartmental
    • The local community
  • Faculty/student relationship
    • Benefits to students
    • Advice to students

Establishing a Working Relationship

"Establishment and maintenance of a personal relationship is the glue that holds together the pieces of a collaborative research effort."

Kraut et al., 1988
  • The essentials:
    • Find "Common Ground"
    • Communicate
    • Address individual & team values
    • Establish trust

Common Ground (Olson & Olson, 2000)

  • Knowledge that participants have in common and that they are aware they have in common
  • How to establish common ground?
    • Know your collaborators' backgrounds
      • Research interests
      • Professional goals
      • Work style
  • Common ground >> communication >> increase in productivity


"Communication skill may be the most important factor in collaboration"

Andrews, 1990

Communication (Andrews, 1990)

  • Allows participants to understand expectations
    • Meetings
    • Attendance
    • Agendas
    • Confidentiality
    • Time frames
    • Participation
  • Eliminates ambiguity in interdisciplinary work
    • Define professional terms
    • Avoid organizational jargon
    • Share critical core concepts

Interpersonal Issues: Values

"Sometimes we mistake our cultural values for 'universal values' and judge behavior negatively if it does not conform to our own standards."

McDermott et al., 1998
  • Established during formative years (approximately 21 years) (Manning et al., 1996)
  • Not easily changed
  • Communicated through actions, not words
  • Generational differences
  • Cultural differences

Interpersonal Issues: Generational Differences (Manning et al., 1996)

  • Motivation to work
  • Young work for...
    • Social reasons
    • Self fulfillment
    • To have leisure
  • Old work for...
    • Money
    • Self fulfillment
    • Security
  • Other aspects
    • Reaction to change
    • Appearance
    • Authority
    • Respect for property

Interpersonal Issues: Cultural Differences

"Culture can help explain the background of team members but each person must be evaluated individually as a singular human being"

McDermott et al., 1998
  • Relevant in local and distance collaborations
  • Differences in process
    • Scientific style
    • International human subjects issues
  • Styles of management
    • Turn taking style
    • Response to authority

Addressing Cultural Differences

  • Cultural diversity ground rules (McDermott et al., 1998)
    • Know your own values
    • Consider team members as individuals, not stereotypes
    • Engage in dialogue comparing cultures
      • Learn about team members
      • Establish common ground
    • Don't hesitate to communicate
    • Do not assume behavior that is unacceptable or disagreeable is intentional
    • Express cultural curiosity and empathy
  • Assume many perspectives yield better outcome than fewer perspectives (Alder, 1986)
  • Important to acknowledge cultural differences (McDermott et al.,1998)
    • Minimize problems
    • Maximize potential advantages
  • Team building activity (McDermott et al.,1998)
    • Members will disclose a cultural characteristic that other members may find challenging

Establishing Team Values

"A team's values, its moral and ethical principles, will guide the team's behaviors"

McDermott et al., 1998
  • Given the variability of individual values, team members should be aware of the values that are important to the group
  • Values will translate into goals and actions

Establish Trust

"Trust in a collaborator is crucial for the productivity and longevity of relationship."

Kraut et al., 1988
  • Trust is established by (Olson & Olson, 2000)
    • Effort to fulfill commitments
    • Honesty
    • Not taking advantage of partners
  • Trust emerges from face to face interactions (Kraut et al., 1988)
  • Research is lacking on the use of videos in the establishment of trust (Olson & Olson, 2000)

Modules in the Series:

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