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By Ieva Biliunaite Published 17.09.2020
Thanks to COVID-19, over recent months, many of us had to learn how to effectively work and communicate over distance. Meetings and even coffee breaks, all has been placed online. It is only natural, that for some people this has worked better than for others - as ones started to love it, others only to possibly dislike.
Interestingly, some of research work, even in usual circumstances, can only be done online. Many great research collaborations take place online due to researchers being placed in different countries and simply not being able to constantly meet or conduct their work altogether physically in one place.
Being part of international collaboration is certainly very engaging and developing experience. It provides one with opportunity to learn from other research teams about different work practises. However, such collaborations also bring certain challenges. Because of that, in this article I would like to share my experience of working together with researchers from two different countries and lessons that this experience taught me. But first, let me quickly tell you a bit more about the project I was part of.
Over last year, I was working with a group of researchers in Lithuania (my home country) as well as a researcher in the Netherlands, while myself and my supervisor, were staying in Sweden. Over this year, we worked together on achieving several goals, such as designing a program and running a research study. Later, with few of us we continued working on slightly different projects together.
How did this all go? Of course, there were ups and down, but overall, I must say that it was a great experience! That is why I would like to provide you with some tips (or more so ‘Lessons learned’), so that you could also possibly make such experience enjoyable in the future.
Below, I have summarized five, to my opinion most important points that I have learned throughout this experience. I hope you enjoy reading and most importantly, find the information useful!
Tip nr1: Stay prepared
One of the first lessons that I learnt, was to keep detailed minutes of every meeting we had together as a group. Since we were spread between three countries and many of us had other ongoing research work to do, all together, we would only meet every 4 or more weeks. To document our meetings, we have started taking minutes so that no information gets lost in the future. Sometimes, I even made minutes of separate, smaller meetings with only few members of collaboration. This also helped to keep track of the project.
Tip nr2: Be flexible
It is probably only natural that as in everyday situations, in research too, things do not always go as planned. If some things go wrong, one might need to spend additional time for meetings and completion of the tasks. These additional hours might not be necessarily easy to find especially for people with busy agendas. One solution is to try and take on some work yourself or consider dividing it among other team members. However, this might not be always possible. In such cases, it is important to try and foresee future consequences and reconsider project’s planning. This also leads to the following point – clear communication.
Tip nr3: Maintain clear communication
Maybe you got sick or maybe you are experiencing other personal or work-related challenges and cannot complete your tasks? All of that does not mean you are not a responsible person; such things happen from time to time. What is important, that this is clearly discussed with your fellow collaborators, so that certain decisions and solutions can be taken and implemented. Of course, timing in such cases is very important – the sooner the other team members are notified, the better.
Another important aspect is regarding relation with the collaborators. It might happen, that it is not always easy to agree on certain aspects. Such things might cause irritation or other unpleasant feelings. It is important to know, that it is perfectly normal to experience such drawbacks. Take your time to process your feelings. If needed, talk to someone. If situation continuous, maybe certain decisions must be made. It is important to feel comfortable with people one works with!
Tip nr4: If possible, visit at least once
Visiting can really help to better know your colleagues and their working culture. It might not seem that relevant at first but having good working relations can really help in improving quality of the collaboration and hence, quality of the final product. Often, it is also a good fun since you get to spend more time together and get to know your collaborators on a personal level too.
Tip nr5: Take a moment to appreciate it
Making research collaboration successful is not always and easy job. It requires effort and dedication from all collaborators. On the other hand, as much work as it is, it is also a great learning experience. Moreover, it is also a great opportunity to extend one’s network. Lastly, it can even further inspire new research ideas. In short, it is certainly worth appreciating!
Collaborating on a research project is a truly interesting and valuable experience. As I have tried to emphasize throughout this article, one can even make it a better experience by being prepared. I hope that you find these tips useful and that all your current and future research collaborations are truly fruitful and enjoyable!