Tips on Collaborating Better

As a student in an interdisciplinary program, learning to collaborate effectively is one of the most useful skills I can have. Although it may not be as important for other disciplines, it is still a very useful skill and can help in more ways than research. Collaboration relies heavily on communication (as you will see), but here are a few tips I’ve learned that are extremely important to collaborating effectively:

  1. Know your audience.
    Knowing your audience is one of the simplest things you can do when collaborating with someone. When you know your collaborator’s familiarity with a topic, it is a lot easier to adjust the level of complexity in your explanations and questions. By doing so, you can avoid jargon speech or miscommunications. The best way to get to know your audience, is to simply ask. For instance, you can ask if your collaborator is familiar with a term you use frequently to gauge their knowledge of a core subject. Based on the response, you can continue your question or explanation in a way you would with a colleague or pose your explanations or questions in a manner you would to new students entirely unfamiliar with a concept… Just be careful not to be condescending in your simplifications!
  2. Know yourself.
    Before you can begin to collaborate with others, you need to know exactly what you need from others. Make sure you know exactly what skills you are lacking, so you can be sure you are collaborating with someone who is proficient in those skills. This will also help you guide your questions and expectations for your collaborator. Even if the first person you contact for collaboration does not have the skills you are looking for, by having a concise explanation of what you need, this person could potentially put you in contact with someone that does have the skills you need.
  3. Keep an open dialogue.
    This is more of a communication tip that should be utilized with all individuals you work with. You should make sure that you keep an open dialogue of expectations and desired outcomes. You should make sure that issues such as authorship and deadlines be hashed out and agreed upon early on in a collaboration. More importantly, keeping in touch with current progress and goals can help make sure everyone is on board and achieve overall goals.

What are some tips you’ve learned in your own experiences with collaborations? Comment more tips below!

Math pun: Why is 1/5 always so stressed out? Because he’s two tenths (too tense)!
(Today’s Math Pun brought to you by algebra)

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