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Lessons in Collaboration

Lessons in Collaboration

From the November 2017 Water Center Newsletter

Greg DickGreg Dick, Associate Professor of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Associate Chair, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences and Associate Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, College of Literature, Science, and the Arts

As a scientist who studies how microorganisms interact with their aquatic environment, my research is naturally interdisciplinary. It draws on many natural sciences and spans approaches from observations and experiments in the field to the lab to computer modeling. Such integrative work often involves large teams of collaborative scientists that come from various scientific cultures and speak different technical languages.

I’ve found that while these collaborative efforts can be challenging, they are also incredibly rewarding. What are the key ingredients to successfully navigating the challenges and reaping the rewards of collaborations between such diverse scientists? Here are some lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Fearlessness. It’s not easy for highly trained and accomplished experts in their own field to grapple with new fields and methods, or new ways of looking at an old problem. Some of the best collaborators I know are fearless when it comes to exploring uncharted territory. They’re not afraid to acknowledge that they need help and they are open to receiving it. They thrive on new challenges and new ideas.
  2. Patience. Learning to appreciate a new perspective or approach, or trying to articulate yours to another can be time-consuming and frustrating. Having the patience and interest to talk through ideas and grapple with different ways of thinking about a problem is essential to working across disciplines.
  3. Trust. Collaborators must believe that they have shared goals and interests and that their efforts and contributions will be recognized appropriately and fairly.
  4. Communication. Frequent, open, and frank communication is key to ensuring that all team members are aware of, and understand, the bigger picture and team goals and their own role in moving the team towards them. Maintaining open channels of communications is perhaps the most tangible step we can take to foster other components of collaborative and successful research.

Learn More
• Michigan Geomicrobiology Lab