Collaborating for Research – Experiences and Lessons Learnt

by Maha Kumaran
Leslie and Irene Dubé Health Sciences Library, University of Saskatchewan

True collaboration does not happen unless all involved researchers invest time and energy towards every step of the project. Depending on the project, grants may need to be applied for and funding secured, ethics cleared from all required institutions, research assistants interviewed and hired, research participants contacted, interviews or forums set up, survey questionnaire prepared, tested, sent, and data gathered and analyzed, and a literature review conducted. Then the article needs to be written, the journal chosen and seen through the peer-review process, and the order of authors for publication established. Accomplishing all of this takes time, teamwork, communication, and a willingness accept and finish assigned tasks in a timely fashion.

In my most recent project I worked with one collaborator. Our project involved surveying and interviewing internationally educated nurses (IENs) employed at health regions in Saskatchewan. I needed to secure ethics clearance or operational approval from all 13 health regions in the province. My collaborator and I also sought ethics clearance from our own institutions which was a straightforward process. Securing ethics clearance from health regions was a little more complicated and time consuming. In some of the health regions, the contact information for ethics personnel was not clearly stated. In a few health regions, we had to wait for the health region’s board meeting where our ethics clearance request was placed on the agenda. In one case, they did not have time to discuss this at the scheduled board meeting, so we had to wait for the next meeting before we could get clearance. Many reminders had to be sent and finally ethics was cleared over a period of 3 months.

Our project was divided into 2 phases. In phase 1, I learnt to use FluidSurvey to create a survey. We hired a student from the U of S’s Social Sciences Research Laboratories (SSRL) to analyze the survey data. In Phase 2, interviews were set up for IENs with the SSRL researcher. Later we learnt to use NVivo to analyze the interview results.

Once all the research was completed I learnt to use NLM citation format to publish our paper in the journal of our choice. Unfortunately we hadn’t decided on the journal beforehand, so this stage also involved some learning. Throughout our research project, we planned for conference presentations and worked on posters in PowerPoint. This involved learning or re-learning many features of Excel and PowerPoint to create charts, graphs, and tables to present data.

Our project ran over a period of 3 years and this also meant a lot of communication – between collaborators, participants, SSRL, ethics and grant personnel, our journal editor and finance personnel to have our conference expenses reimbursed.

Lessons Learnt:
When seeking a collaborator, remember to find someone who is as invested and significantly engaged in the topic. This will be a huge motivating factor in accomplishing all the required work and seeing the project to finish. Be prepared to invest time and energy towards communications, learning new technologies and skills, writing the article and seeing it through the peer-review process. If collaborators are geographically apart, virtual meetings may need to be set up. Since my collaborator and I were in two different cities, we set up phone, Zoom, and Skype sessions. Initially, we set up agendas and took notes of what needed to be done after each meeting. As time progressed and our work lives got busier we were less industrious about such meetings and tried to accomplish everything through email. There were miscommunications or misunderstandings along the way, but we were both professional and mature enough to get past these hurdles. Be patient and understand that collaborators also have other priorities. There were many occasions when I felt overwhelmed with amount of work involved. On such occasions, I took a short break, made lists, prioritized the work, assigned tasks, and set deadlines.

Collaborative research when done well can be a rich and rewarding experience. Researchers learn to problem solve, gain new knowledge and skills, and ultimately have a strong project published in a high impact journal.

This article gives the views of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.