In this weeks topic 3 we have been trying to understand values and differences of learning networks and communities. I like the simple explanation of Henry Mintzberg when he says: 

”If you want to understand the difference between a network and a community, ask your Facebook friends to help paint your house.” 

( This is very fitting for social media and I agree we need both networks and communities, but how does it relate to my professional (scientific) life and which do I belong to?

Past years have shown, that collaboration and international mobility make science stronger. Collaborations bring together researchers with diverse scientific backgrounds and perspectives to address perplexing questions and solve complex problems that benefit from an interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary approach. The most important ingredients for me to make collaborations work is trust and commitment, to produce research that is relevant, and to understand many angles and perspectives… True, most scientific research is collaborative, but are there differences?

In a scientific collaboration network two scientists are basically considered connected if they have authored a paper together. Similar to what we were presented in the topic 3 scenario, a group works on a scientific problem, each bringing some expertise to the problem, each member works on a separate part, which are integrated at the end. Ok, this probably works in most cases and its very common.

In a community partnership (or Integrated Research team) on the other hand, a team works on a research problem with each member bringing specific expertise and skills to a project by performing experiments and analyzing data with a common or related set of samples and then put the results together to tell a scientific story. There are regular meetings and discussions of the teams overall goals and objectives of the individuals on the team, including data sharing (Ref: Collaboration and Team Science: From Theory to Practice, LM Bennett · 2012). This is the way I prefer to work, forming community partnerships. This might not be the fastest way of producing publications, true, but science is not about quantity (even though funding bodies often have some twisted ideas about that).

I strive for complementarity of work styles and approaches, improved quality of the experimental design or analysis of the results, and strong personal connections to colleagues. There are not many things more satisfying than doing what you truly love – science- sharing that passion, and working closely with others who are pursuing the same goals.

Over the years I realized that dynamics of work relationships played an increasingly important role in scientific research itself and many factors came together that contributed to some of the successful collaborations I had. Very critical for effective team functioning can be:

1) Enjoying the science and the work together (I can not say that enough…),

2) Trust among team members!  Trust is formed through interactions and communications while building a team.

3) Learning each others’ languages…this can take a long time (e.g. immunologists working with physicians, programmers and statisticians),

4) self-awareness of differences in ways of thinking, feeling and perceiving and to understand how these translate into different preferences in interaction with others.

Striving for collaborative community in Science (reflection on topic 3)