On Navigating Collaborations

No matter what stage of your career you are in, collaborations can be crucial to build relationships in the math community and advance your research.

In this talk, Dr. Chelsea Walton (Rice University), “pulled back the curtains and showed us that the process of navigating collaborators is not magic, by sharing personal stories and proving some concrete tips and guidelines for working on collaborative research projects.

This talk is an amazing resource, in particular, for graduate students and early-career mathematicians.  I think this presentation is required listening/reading for the beginning of any new collaboration.

Figure 1. “Hello, Would you like to do math together?”

Hilariously infused with pictures of animals that honestly are so relatable. Walton gives us a flawless and straight to the point guide. Through her talk, she discussed the different stages of mathematical collaboration and associated keywords.

At the introduction stage of collaboration, the keyword was ‘access’, and it asks who is doing mathematical research? In the next stage, the starting stage, the keyword is dreaming. Ideally, you should pick a topic according to the diagram in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Considerations when picking a research topic.

Some people pick their team first then their project or vice versa (and everything in between). There is no wrong way of doing it, after all, it is your dream.

Here, also it’s the ideal time to settle logistics with collaborators. For example, what will be the main mode of the meetings? How often will you meet? What will be the main way of storing or sharing ideas? As a person involved in many group projects this is a crucial step in assuring that everyone is on the same page and that progress can be made in clear concrete ways.

The next few stages get to the math of the matter (keyword: priorities), the writing stage (keyword: momentum), and the concluding stage (keyword: polishing). There can be many roles (see Figure 3) in each of these stages, but the important thing is to share the load. A great tip for junior researchers from Dr. Walton is to “set the pace and finish the project, even if this means readjusting goals”.

Figure 3. Some of the many roles involved in a collaboration.

Figure 3. Some of the many roles involved in a collaboration.

But one of the most important (and easy to neglect) aspects of collaboration is reflection. Dr. Walton suggests asking yourself, are you happy with the product? Were your contributions valued? Because at the end of the day, any collaboration is building a relationship, and “when you don’t feel valued you can’t do good math”.

About Vanessa Rivera-Quinones

Mathematics Ph.D. with a passion for telling stories through numbers using mathematical models, data science, science communication, and education. Follow her on Twitter: @VRiveraQPhD.
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