I’ve generally avoided collaborative research. Mostly because I’m an introvert and I carefully manage my social stimulus levels. I’ve also been reluctant to commit to projects when my domestic obligations were so heavy and unpredictable (see: babies, young children, eldercare and hospice). I don’t like committing to something but then finding myself unable to hit the deadline or standard.
But as life stabilized at home, collaboration seemed more doable. Better yet, I had a potential collaborator in different time zone – meaning that the social stimulus could be managed through email and scheduled Skype meetings. So a few months ago I suggested to “Tima” – a pseudonym – that we should collaborate on a project I’d been mulling since we’d first met.
What I proposed was a bit crazy: we would link two previously unconnected research literatures and open an exciting program with huge potential for both of our careers. We agreed to do everything The Hard Way: we started our collaboration-by-distance by writing a theoretical “thought experiment” manuscript for submission to a very high ranked journal; our philosophy was – and still is – to only be rejected by the best. In other words, with absolutely no experience with research collaboration, my very first attempt would be a high risk-high reward venture. And what an adventure it has been.
You see, Tima is the polar opposite of me, except when he is annoying similar. He loves track changes with an intensity I can’t understand; all those comments and text colours raises my heart rate and triggers my almost overwhelming need to “tidy” the text. While I prefer to write a good-idea-in-a-poor-sentence and then repeatedly revise, he will agonize over the perfect sentence structure, ignore my brilliant insights and correcting my grammar. While I try to pace myself, he constantly pushes us to go faster. I am, as a Canadian, passive aggressive; in his culture, people thrive by ignoring the passive, all of which makes Skype meetings a communication learning experience for both of us.
Yet here we are – with a draft manuscript out for review a full four months ahead of my anticipated schedule. And by collaborating with someone who is equally ambitious, ethical AND opened minded, I’ve learned a huge amount about myself, my culture, my writing idiosyncrasies – yes, we all have them – and what is important to my career. We’ve laughed, talked about our kids and tormented each other with stories from our respective worlds (his: the amazing fresh produce available in his country while I’m in the dark days of the Canadian winter; mine: the available green space and Canadian civility). And thanks to the time zone difference, when I wake in the middle of the night and check my email I see that he’s already at work on our manuscript; I eventually get back to sleep but with a lovely feeling of undeserved research productivity.
We come from radically different places – culturally, geographically, academically. But I’m seeing the real beauty of research collaboration: contributing our strengths to a common goal, focused on an interesting problem, the solution to which has the potential to generate significant and positive changes. In short, international collaboration with Tima has been the best thing that has happened to my brain in a long time.