Why You Cannot Afford to Bypass Collaboration

I once had the good fortune of being able to receive funds for collaborative research from a well-known, wealthy, international donor. He asked me what I thought would be the most productive way for him to spend his money for faculty grants. Since I was then working at a university, I asked if he could assist in giving faculty funds to develop collaborative research with their counterparts abroad. He was delighted to hear that, and we began a program of collaborative faculty research throughout various countries. Some of this research was ideal for such partnerships, while in other areas, due to the sensitivity of the research, it was not. Nevertheless, we found that the benefits far outweighed the disadvantages. We recognized that some of the most pressing topics such as infectious diseases and environmental problems were excellent candidates for collaborative research. We also discovered that curriculum development in such areas as political science, history, psychology and business greatly benefited from the inclusion of many voices, rather than from one cultural vision. At first, this was not an easy undertaking, because the U.S. still ranks 42nd among the list of 49 countries across the globe in international collaboration (Professor Richard Sternberg, University of Washington, 2012). However, given the available funds and the success of our projects, the manner in which the aforementioned problems were viewed and addressed started shifting quickly. I believe the following to be key benefits of collaboration:

1) Addressing Funding Priorities

Donors now stress collaborative research in their funding priorities. Creating and maintaining team efforts and partnerships will increase your funding possibilities.

2) Answering Global Issues

The global nature of research topics such as climate change, global health, immigration, trade, economics, and water resources requires collaboration across borders.

3) Bringing More Experience to Address the Problem

Combining the distributed intelligence of a group increases your chances of solving the problem more efficiently. Once you have conceived the idea for your project, your plan will reflect a series of problems that need to be solved.

4) Increasing Funding Base

If you collaborate, you can increase your funding base from various funding agencies, both private and public.

5) Augmenting Approaches

A wider array of approaches can be utilized in team efforts, and scientific and social issues can be examined from various angles.

6) Expanding Success Rates

International awards from such agencies as the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have higher funding success rates than domestic awards.

7) Emphasizing Multidisciplinary Research

Emphasis on translational and interdisciplinary research is increasing exponentially, and by its very nature requires partnerships and collaboration.

8) Broadening Impact

Since donors want their funding to have broad impact, collaborative efforts, be they national or international,help by demonstrating wider reaching benefits.

9) Impressing Donors

There is no better argument for convincing funding agencies than showing that what you are doing is conducted by the best researchers in the field.

10) Enhancing Synergy

Partnerships lead to synergy in discovery, since combined effort produces a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual contributions.

Creating effective partnerships requires collective vision, purpose, buy-in and mutual respect. Without these elements, it is difficult to maintain the momentum of true collaboration. At the end of the day, each partner is able to contribute knowledge and expertise that would be missing without their involvement. The globalization of the 21st century necessitates collaboration in order to address the complexity of research and global issues. Understanding this, funding agencies now believe in the power of collaboration; and so should you.

Mathilda Harris

Over the past 18 years, she has written grants, conducted capital campaigns, developed strategic plans for grant procurement, and assisted individuals and institutions to write winning proposals for various donors.

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