Thursday, 16 February 2012


I was going to put a relevant picture into this post, but couldn't find any that weren't unbearably cheesy. So I gave you a picture of my favourite team instead.

Collaborating on research, especially within your PhD, can be a tricky thing. Given that your PhD is designed to help you find your research-feet, so to speak, it can be hard to feel you've anything valuable to contribute, or that you've the authority to speak up if you disagree with something.

I thought I'd talk about this subject today because I've recently entered into a collaboration - my next study will be run with myself and my supervisor, and another psychologist from Brunel.

For me, this is really exciting. The Psychology (or Science) of Magic is a small-but-growing field and I am lucky enough to be working with two of Britain's prominent psychologists within it. As I don't do magic myself, it is great to have a psychologist who is also a magician on the team. Already, he has been able to provide insights into various methods that will work better than others, and has been invaluable in helping with some of the key points of the design.

So my experience of collaboration is a really positive one. For me, it's meant my study's quality is improved tenfold, I have a better understanding of what results we should see (and why we should see them) and now an opportunity to visit that lab as well.

However, I think collaboration can be a scary prospect for PhD students. For the reasons I've mentioned above, but also because I think there is sometimes a fear for losing the ownership of our work. Although we've all done undergraduate dissertations, the PhD is the first time you have a large body of work that is yours.

We adjust to the student-supervisor relationship, with a general acceptance of their name on anything we publish. That's par for the course, and not unexpected. From discussions with other students though, sometimes adding another one or two people to the mix can incite feelings of panic, or intellectual insecurity. Is that work suddenly becoming less ours, and more theirs?

These are tricky things to deal with, and not something that I think can go away. But, if you have the chance to collaborate on a project during your PhD - especially if it's something that (a) you can use in your thesis or (b) might result in a lab visit - you should go for it. Negative feelings are scary, but often turn out to be unfounded. The positives you receive in return far outweigh the discomfort.

I am maybe just used to asking silly questions, but I have been nothing but excited about this collaboration. I'm getting to work with someone who's work I really admire, and a whole load of other benefits besides.

But what are your views of collaboration? Have you had any positive/negative experiences of it?

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