Since the late 1950s, international research collaboration has emerged between countries to achieve better innovation and efficiency. Nowadays, as the progress of globalization, gathering an international team with individuals, universities, organizations and agencies, and using their strength to benefit the related research has become more and more important. In this essay, the author is going to give a brief introduction to the history, current situation, and some thoughts on international collaboration and how it has influenced academia.
Generally speaking, the international collaboration on research can be achieved in multiple forms, for example, sharing data with other colleagues, exchange thoughts and ideas, visiting each other’s facilities, etc., all these can be regarded as international collaboration and can bring some advantages to the collaborators. If we take a look back to the history of scientific research, it is easy to find out that these forms of collaboration have never stopped, and have triggered some most prosperous times with some most brilliant names. For instance, in the 16th century, the mathematicians and physicists tend to write letters to communicate with other to share new findings and achievements, the intellectual communication between those brilliant minds, represented by Sir Issac Newton, brought to the birth of the system of classic physics and built the foundation for the industrial revolution. Another example is in the 19th century, the communication between the scientists excited and stimulated each other and build the modern physics system, which contributed to the invention of nuclear power and modern electronics technologies.
Figure 1. The picture of the fifth Solvay Conference, among the attendees are some most well-known names including Albert Einstein and Marie Curie
After the 1990s, the trend of globalization and the emergence of the internet has brought much convenience to international communication and further stimulated it.
Figure 2. The percentage of the research publication that involves international collaboration in the United States
Figure 2 illustrates the percentage of the research outcome in the United States that is related with international collaboration according to the largest international academic journal publisher Elesvier, it can be noticed that the rate grows steadily in the trend, and the percentage grows from below 20% to almost 40%, considering the amount of the overall publication is also growing, the number indicate that the collaboration is very popular nowadays.
Another large country, China, has the similar trend, however, due to the relative lower research level and more occlusive government policies, the trend didn’t start to go up until around the year of 2000.
Figure 3. The percentage of the research publication that involves international collaboration in China
The reason for the rise of international collaboration result from several reasons and can mainly categorized into the following:
Figure 4. The international space station
- Combination of resource. As the topic of research has become more and more subdivided, it becomes more and more difficult to be an expert in a certain research area in a short period of time to solve all the issues met in the research process, and the easiest way is to organize a team and get help from each other. In an even bigger picture, the collaboration may be organized by multiple governments from different countries to gather resources for exploring the frontier of human technology. A most famous example is the International Space Station (ISS), which is led by the U.S. government and involves more than 16 countries, this result of collaboration greatly fostered research in medicine, ecology and other areas of science.
- Innovation. One good reason for choosing to collaborate internationally is to bring in people from different thinking patterns and culture backgrounds and introduce some out of box thoughts and ideas and help to generate innovations.
- Funding opportunities. More and more funding agencies have open opportunities to international researchers, working with other researchers can help to gain the chance of getting additional funding support to conduct non-sensitive research. For example, the United States National Science Foundation announced to have supported more than $11.5 million funding to 9 international collaborative projects on grand scientific challenges.
- Other reasons. There also remain other reasons for the researchers to be motivated to involve in international research, for example, to share information to avoid meaningless effort, accelerate personal career growth, proof of leadership in a certain research field, take advantage of the existing research equipment or facilities, etc. For example, in the field of astronomy, it is financially impossible and unnecessary to build large telescopes in every country. As a result, the design and construct of large telescopes often involves intellectual and financial investment from multiple countries, and most telescopes are open to all the researchers globally to make the full use of the equipment.
Figure 5. The Gran Telescopio Canarias in Spain which involves effort from Spain, the United States, German and Mexican, etc.
For the reasons mentioned above, the collaboration is usually encouraged by the science management agencies in different countries, however, like the coin has two sides, the collaboration can also meet difficulties and challenges, and can bring negative impact to the collaboration
Figure 6. J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the leading scientist and project leader for Manhattan Project
- Research management. The management of an international project which involves multiple participants can always be challenging, not only can the different countries have different policies, the collaborated projects themselves can be large, and require someone with adequate experience and prestige to manage.
- Intellectual property and data sharing. The ownership of the intellectual outcome of the research that involves multiple collaborators can always be difficult to decide, especially when the funding comes from different countries. In addition, the research data can introduce more complicated problems, especially how it should be published. These problems need to be considered and solved in advance to guarantee it won’t outbreak at the end of the project. Another situation is some researchers may use the research data that they already achieved in one country to apply for projects in another country, which technically should be considered as research misconduct, however, due to lack of communicating mechanism, it can be difficult to discover behaviors like this.
- Culture and language barrier. Although English is being recognized as the most used international language in the field of scientific research, people from different cultural backgrounds can have conflict in the way of thinking and behaving. Moreover, for a non-native speaker, communicating in another language can always be less efficient and more effort consuming.
- Political reason. As mentioned previously in the advantage of international collaboration, one reason for the government to encourage international collaboration is to grab the leading position in a certain research field, however, it can be challenging if multiple countries seek to compete for that position. Whatsmore, due to national security reasons, the government may restrict some research areas to researchers from a different country. For example, even some universities in the United States are willing to accept international students to major in some sensitive major, the student can have a large chance of being rejected to receive a visa for studying that.
At this time, with the spread of the COVID-19, the world seeks more than ever the collaboration of international collaboration to overcome this challenge for human beings. Yet, it is disappointing to find out that a lot of governments turn their policy to conservatism and isolationism and hold a negative attitude towards international collaboration on solving this issue. Closing the door for sharing and collaborating can benefit no one and only causing more death of innocent people. I hope this situation can be changed and let the world hold hands together to win this battle against the virus.