Collaboration is becoming essential part of research in recent years, particularly around multi-disciplinary fields. It sounds easy to do collaboration as there are many researchers to collaborate in principle. However, in my personal view and experience, successful and good collaboration is rare and kind of luxury even in highly multi-disciplinary fields. After good amount of unsuccessful and rewarding collaboration experience, I made my own version of check-box list for collaboration:
1. Collaborators should have distinctive but complementary expertise in high professional standard
This is probably the most important. Collaboration is NOT trainer-trainee relationship, in which knowledge and technique only flows from one to another side (so strictly speaking, such internal training is not collaboration at all), but bi-directional crosstalk of different expertise. Collaborators should have distinctive but complementary expertise, so that they can make synergistic benefit when they put their head together. The core of collaboration is basically combination of different profession and blow a new wind by mixing things unlikely present in only one person. Also, each collaborator should possess high level of professionalism in each field. This is simple but very effective marker to identify good and rewarding collaboration opportunity.
2. Collaboration should start from idea not skill set of each party
It is very common that collaboration starts by looking for people or groups with certain skill set that lack in one party but in need. This is straightforward way, but very susceptible way of forming collaboration. In this case, early communication and collaborative discussion seem easy and quick, but it is very hard to keep momentum of collaboration in long run - as collaboration easily evolves into technical outsourcing without core shared value. Instead, collaboration should start from idea that would likely require integrative combination of different expertise to attack. Having shared goal in collaboration is essential to keep momentum and motivation in long term collaboration.
3. Make publication from collaboration
It is harsh to say, but it is reality that collaboration is not only about intellectual enjoyment but also about productive academic activity. Collaboration without clear publication perspective is extremely susceptible as it cannot give enough practical motivation to continue for each party. Hence, preparing and planning publication even in very early stage of collaboration is very important in practical regards.
4. Write grant for collaborative projects
Again this is practical consideration rather than idealized world story. Every research project consumes funding both for human resource and non-human resource. Particularly, collaboration projects typically require investment from each party not evenly divided, but rather very irregularly distribute in different stage of collaborative project. In practical viewpoint, these irregularities and unpredictable investment from each party on collaboration can easily strain relationship, and oftentimes serve as trigger to fail collaborations. Securing a dedicated funding source for collaboration projects greatly enhances flexibility and stability of collaborative relationship. Also, grant proposal itself is very nice opportunity to formalize the perspective and goal of collaboration compared to causal verbal discussions. Moreover, having research grant (typically in 3 ~ 5 years due) significantly increase motivation and dedication from each party to move forward on collaboration as the awarded grant basically acts as external enforcer of meaningful outcome from the collaboration.