Collaborating, formally or otherwise, is a huge component of your future (and current) success – even if you’re in the early stages of your career as a graduate student or postdoc.
Why? It’s how science works today – even in academia. You can’t do it all on your own — you need to work with others who have expertise in different areas to identify the right research questions, to ensure that your experiments answer the questions properly and that your data are robust, to fully interpret results and understand their broader implications and ramifications (as well as potential commercial application in some cases).
There are other benefits. Working as part of a team, even virtually, helps you to build and improve your communication skills and feel free to toss ideas around. You may have access to better data or information, and you grow your research alliances – no small feat in today’s world, in which where it’s all about your network. You learn how to be more assertive and can speak up with greater confidence. Collaborative grants are often larger than individual awards and have good acceptance rates, and collaborative studies are cited more often – all pluses for your own CV. Institutions and funding agencies are starting to take notice of the upsides, and are launching programmes to help graduate students get involved with collaborations.
But of course there are downsides. Determining first authorship can be a hassle. As an early-career researcher, you may doubt that you’re getting proper credit for your contribution to the project, and you may feel at a disadvantage when it comes to securing future grants on your own.
Still, the benefits outweigh the risks, and there’s that small little thing that funding schemes increasingly encourage or even require collaboration, and if you decide to leave academia, functioning as part of a team is the way of the workplace in every other sector. Wondering how to get started? Join a lab that has a history of collaborations, volunteer on a committee that organizes conferences or work on a large project with divisions of labour. Here’s to team science!