Piirus member, Jane Montague is the Discipline Lead for Psychology within the Department of Life Sciences at the University of Derby. Her teaching and research interests are based within critical approaches to social psychology, particularly in relation to gender, identity and the use of qualitative methods. Montague currently teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate students and supervises a number of PhD students. She is an active member of University of Derby psychology research team and engages externally with its accrediting body, the British Psychological Society, as the Conference Officer for the Social Psychology Section. She talks about the importance of collaboration in boosting research productivity.
I am extremely grateful to have been given this opportunity to add my voice to the Piirus blog and to outline some of my work with a variety of collaborators. These have, so far, generally been located within the academic community, though more recently I have begun to engage with key stakeholders outside academia, and I’m sure that will continue to develop as my networks expand. Within this post I’ll discuss two of the key elements that I feel have contributed positively to my experience and that continue to influence research developments in my fields of interest.
The first of my key elements is to build collaborative relationships that draw on the strengths of all of our working practices. I have found that the best and most satisfying collaborations are those where we are all confident in our own particular area of expertise and can see the wider positive effects of bringing that range of expertise together to generate a ‘product’ that would be impossible individually. Building these collaborative relationships with key individuals, each of whom can visualise that shared end point is crucial. For example, a current collaborative research interest of mine is in the areas of breast and gynaecological cancer where we have particularly focused on women’s individual and shared experiences of these devastating diagnoses. With those colleagues involved, I have published a number of papers where each of us has contributed a different set of strengths. Negotiation of those relationships and their shared aims has taken time and effort on all our parts, but has begun to reap rewards in extending our networks beyond those small projects with which we began.
A further aspect of the shared relationships I’ve built is that, as researchers we all hold a similar set of values. My aim within the psychological fields where I’m active is to try to create a context for positive change. I am aware that the changes I am able to make individually are perhaps minimal; however, these incremental changes build up as collaborations develop. In addition, those individuals I am working with now will carry on their work beyond a particular collaborative enterprise, as will I, thus continuing and expanding the impact of what we might have achieved in our first joint research project.
The second key consideration is the care necessary in planning joint projects and the practicalities involved. Whether working within one academic institution or developing research with partners outside of academia there are a variety of hurdles to navigate. Timings can be extremely problematic, particularly if people are working in different time zones, for example. One of my collaborative partners is located near San Francisco and the best time for her to talk is mid-afternoon UK time. Another key colleague is located in Singapore, therefore the time difference means that first thing in the morning UK time fits with his daily schedule. Even working together in the same time zone is not easy. Recently I have been involved in a research project with a local carer’s organisation. Of course, their working day is very similar to mine, but their time to meet is extremely stretched because of the demands of their daily working practices; coupled with the demands of a higher education context which is not solely focused on research, meeting plans have had to be extremely flexible on both sides.
Another element to be considered is that of how to write up the research. Beyond the relationship building and negotiation of roles within research, writing throws up its own set of challenges. Again, negotiation is of key importance here. I have made extensive use of Skype for some collaborative discussions. Being able to work within a shared document while discussing as a group has worked extremely well for some projects. For another project, my colleagues and I went on a writing retreat, using the time and space away from daily pressures to thrash out our paper face-to-face, line by line! In another collaborative partnership, each of the four of us read the document one after the other so that we could add our own changes/comments/deliberations turn by turn. Tracked changes can be very messy!
Despite some of the difficulties we’ve encountered, I love working with colleagues on shared projects. I’m much better at sticking to deadlines if I have someone to feel responsible to. I also feel I benefit greatly on both personal and academic levels from others’ views on particular topics, which in turn enable me to expand my own knowledge and understanding.
Many thanks to Jane Montague for sharing this experience with us. Do you feel inspired to build research partnerships or collaborations and set up a team?