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June 2, 2022

Member collaboration and early-career researchers

Finding the right people to collaborate with is one of the biggest challenges for early career researchers (ECRs). As the research industry trends toward interdisciplinary collaboration, we need to figure out how we support ECRs as they grow their network.

What is interdisciplinary collaboration, and does it really matter for the success of a person’s career or the future of a discipline? 

Our answer on all fronts is yes. Interdisciplinary collaboration is a top priority for sponsors, academic institutions, industry partners, and even governments. But it can feel overwhelming. How do you find those people? How do you share information when specialized language and jargon can make understanding different disciplines difficult? Where does this collaboration happen, and how can societies or publishers enable members to share effectively? 

That’s a lot of questions. And while not every question about interdisciplinary collaboration has an answer, we’ve got some ideas.

Demonstrate the value and importance of interdisciplinary collaboration:

Researchers are usually under a huge amount of pressure, especially at the beginning of their careers. Competing priorities of teaching, researching, and publishing all leave very little time to dedicate to interdisciplinary collaboration. To support these members, societies and associations can demonstrate the impact of interdisciplinary collaboration. Give examples of the power of multiple areas of expertise coming together and the impact of the resulting research. Consider how science collaborated throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Immediate, global sharing transformed the rate at which we found vaccines and treatments. But where were the contributions of the public health researchers who study how to communicate risk and inspire people to take action? Imagine the impact of a truly interdisciplinary and united front for COVID-19 research. Early career members need those inspiring stories to understand the importance of prioritizing these connections, even when under a mountain of other high-priority needs.

Create opportunities for members to network with those in other organizations:

The “silo” effect means research teams will not often be aware of what other researchers are studying. It is not always easy to find other teams studying the same thing from different disciplines at the same time: by the time that research is published, it's already years out of date. Early career members, in particular, may not feel established enough or have a strong reputation to seek out this information. Societies and publishers may be able to help. Think about joint programming with societies in related fields so members can meet one another. Or consider making a member directory available to researchers in other fields. Browsing people’s profiles and reaching out directly can be a simple and effective way for early career researchers to connect.

Explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary themed conferences:

We know that conferences are one of the most powerful opportunities for collaboration in the research industry. However, this is still limited to a relatively small number of people, i.e., only the representatives that happen to attend that particular conference or seminar. An interdisciplinary approach would dictate that conference materials should be shared much more widely to accelerate progress across fields. Making the information and knowledge available digitally ensures that it reaches a more diverse and global audience.

Early career researchers are the future of science, and the good news is that they are ready and able to tackle the complex challenges of today’s world. We just need to create opportunities for them to connect, engage with the latest research, and meet their future collaborators as quickly and efficiently as possible. 

Read our new whitepaper: Stronger Together for more of our thoughts on interdisciplinary collaboration.