Top Tips for International Collaboration

By Dec.19, 2016

In a recent post on Research Professional, Phil Ward (Deputy Director of Research at the University of Kent) outlines a top ten of tips on making, developing and sustaining international research collaborations. These tips make a great starting point for anyone looking to expand their international connections, which are increasingly important in the age of the Global Challenges Research Fund and Newton Fund.

See below for the ten tips. The full article is available to view here.

(Note: you will need to log in to your Research Professional account if you want to access the article off-campus. If you have forgotten your password you can reset it, your username is your Salford email address.)

Top Tips for International Collaboration

1. Start small, as they have as little spare time as you do

Starting an international collaboration is a considerable undertaking for both partners. Both of you are exploring links that have considerable potential, but take a lot of work and time to develop. It is therefore worth starting small. You don’t have to collaborate on, say, a global challenges bid immediately. Rather, consider joint authorship on a paper, a joint conference session, or a short exchange.

2. Know the set of things that they need and you could potentially deliver

Like any relationship, you need to be aware of what you can offer, and what is important to you. Think about the needs of your project (see below), and consider who (or which group) can help to meet that need.

3. List your must haves, nice to haves and definitely nots

There is no point working with people if the relationship doesn’t meet your needs, but think about what those needs are, and which of them are essential.

4. Find someone you feel comfortable working with rather than the best in the field

Further to this, be aware that you are getting into a long-term relationship, so the potential colleague needs to not only meet your research needs, but be someone who you can work with on a personal level.

5. Be flexible, never judgmental

Inevitably, you will need to give and take, and the cultural expectations of your collaborator may be very different. Don’t be inflexible: be willing to take on board their issues or concerns. You might not be able to meet them all, but giving due consideration with an open mind is crucial.

6. You don’t have to meet in person, but it helps

It’s tempting, in our pressured and time-poor world, to rely on the phone, email, and Skype, but nothing beats a personal meeting. Misunderstandings can be clarified, and a more personal bond can be forged between the partners.

7. Understand your differing cultural (and religious) norms

I’ve alluded to this already, but it bears repeating. Particularly outside of the global north, expectations, priorities and beliefs vary hugely, and you need to be sensitive to them. This is a partnership of equals, and your collaborator should be treated as such.

8. Understand the universal principles of reciprocation, and valuation

Following on from this, you should not do all of the taking. You need to value and respect your collaborator’s work, and the pressures in their life. Offer help and support when it’s needed, if you expect them to do the same for you.

9. Be prepared to carry any collaboration, at least for a while

The ideal collaboration may take a while to form, so be open and adaptable as it coalesces. You may need to do more than your fair share initially if you want it to work, but the effort will be worth it, if it means the collaboration will be stronger as a result.

10. When they are busy you might be free, when you are busy they might be free: look at this as an opportunity

Collaborators’ work schedules often differ from yours; if you wait until both are free then this is a disadvantage, because it probably means ‘never’. However you can turn this into an advantage if you keep moving forwards when you are free (but they are busy) and in return they move forwards when they are free (but you are busy). That way you can build and maintain good momentum.

Throughout the collaboration, flexibility, understanding, and a healthy attitude of respect are essential. However, you need to go into any joint project with a full knowledge of your needs and what you hope to get out of it. The journey to fulfilling these may be circuitous and unexpected, but the golden rule is that if you keep the best interests of your collaborator in mind, the collaboration will work and will provide a huge amount of additional benefit besides.

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