Building bridges among lab groups

Some of the comments on lab group separation, mostly on Twitter or Facebook, not here, hoped for an explanation of the reasons for separation, or thoughts on the fixes for this. Here’s an effort in that direction.

We might think that lab groups are separate because we compete with each other. This might be true, but these days pay raises are minimal, new hires are group decisions, and space is shared, so I don’t think this is a cause of a lack of cooperation.

Too many talks! Not enough collaboration!

Too many talks! Not enough collaboration!

I think we don’t collaborate because it isn’t our habit. We do what we do without bothering to explore whether or not an ancillary research direction might be possible. We aren’t lazy, but we don’t see the point of starting a research project just because Suzy down the hall works on something close. What if we should? Here is a plan I hope to carry out.

  1. Who might you collaborate with at your institution? Make a list. Think about questions, organisms, and actual physical proximity to your group.
  2. Choose two people to contact and actively explore possible collaborations. Start small. Is there something a student, postdoc, or undergrad could do in an overlapping area?
  3. Remember to think creatively. Do you have a technique or approach that might work well on someone else’s organism?
  4. Don’t forget you don’t have to be very excited by the project at the beginning. Just believe in innovation and in crossing different areas.
  5. Even if it doesn’t work well right away, keep meeting and talking with these people. Move to another person or two if these work out or if they don’t.
  6. Believe that more collaboration within your university will be good. Imagine a web where everyone works with a couple people so we are all connected. Then we will all so much better know who might know something useful.

I’m going to try it out. I have my two people all picked out, though they don’t know it yet. I’ll report back!


About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Collaborating, Collaboration, Department politics, Managing an academic career and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Building bridges among lab groups

  1. ashutoshp says:

    Very good read thank you. I am moving to another institution and have resolved to talk more to others rather than “pipet” all the time. My wife who was a plant geneticist in a previous life, is now trying to evolve into an “interdisciplinary research facilitator” with the aim of engendering collaborations. It’s not been easy for her. Comfort zones or golden handshake, whatever you call it.

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