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Collaborative research: the why and how to collaborate in science.

Posted By Connections Editor , Friday, May 2, 2014
Updated: Monday, April 28, 2014
Eugenia Flores-Figueroa and Teresa V Bowman

“I was told once that the mark of a good PI (principal investigator) is that they sit in their office on the phone and dial up as many collaborations as possible”      Dr. Leonard Zon.

Imagine you are holding with your right hand a ball half white and half black. From your perspective, you see the ball as white, someone next to you sees the ball ¾ white and ¼ black, and someone in front of you sees it black. In order to get an accurate description of such a ball, you have to talk and work with the people around you, you have to collaborate. Collaborations can bring many benefits –like broadening your perspective-, but it can also be intimidating, especially for young researchers and students. You might become wary due to sensationalized stories from the press or from your colleagues or you just do not know how to start a collaboration. We learn by trial and error, and in order to learn how to collaborate, you will have to collaborate, and learn from your experience. However, jumping head first into collaborations without learning the basics of effective collaboration can leave you flailing in a sea of uncertainty. In order to avoid (or reduce the chances of) drowning in a bad experience, we asked ISEH members for their advice and invited them to share their experiences to help us understand the why and how to collaborate in science.

Why to collaborate in science?
If we had asked this question to our members in 1950 –when ISEH was created- we can speculate that the answer would have not been straightforward. Just remember the Till and McCulloch paper from 1960, it was a “truly” Till AND McCulloch paper (just two authors). Science has evolved in the last decades in many different ways; we have witnessed a technological and communications revolution. We do not see science as we did in 1950; our own field is evolving constantly and it is hard to become an expert in everything. These days it is not uncommon to read papers with more than 30 authors and to work on a project with people from different fields (researchers, clinicians, mathematicians and epidemiologists). We asked current ISEH members about the benefits of collaboration to understand why it is seducing more and more scientists each day.

One of the benefits of collaboration is that, as a researcher, you have only one view of your project, when you collaborate, you join perspectives. According to Dr. Leonard Zon, a distinguished stem cell scientist and Harvard Professor who works with the zebrafish model, “When you collaborate, you gain more information about your project, and this could be transforming.  You may publish more quickly or bring expertise into your own lab." For Dr. Margaret (Peggy) Goodell, the current president of ISEH and Baylor College of Medicine Professor, collaboration is an “addition of complementary expertise”, which means that you optimize resources and time, as you do not have to establish the techniques or spend money on reagents in your own lab, and collaboration will “provide another person to bounce ideas off and consider concepts you might not have otherwise.” Dr. Ulrich Steidl, an Associate Professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine notes that “in the long run you almost always get much more out of collaborations that you are putting into them.”

You can also think of collaboration as a way or a style to do research. “Collaborative research," says Achilles Anagnostopoulos MD, Director and Head of the Haematology Department in Greece, “entails cross-fertilization of ideas and provides opportunities for creative thinking as well as cumulative capacity far exceeding the sum of its parts, raising the prospects for real progress that is unattainable when working in isolation.” 
Collaborative research will benefit your career, as Dr. Anagnostopoulos stated “L’union fait la force” (as the French say). But how should one initiate and foster fruitful collaborations and avoid bad ones?

How can a scientist engage in collaborative research?
Opportunities for collaboration are all around us, you just need to be aware and seize the moment. Attend local seminars and national and international meetings with your ears and eyes open to how your work could synergize with others. Don’t be afraid to initiate contact and inquire about the possibility of a collaboration. Small meetings, like ISEH’s, are generally a better set up for collaboration opportunities than big ones. Start by introducing yourself at a meeting to help put a face to a name, then follow-up contact with the researcher via email or a phone call. This personal touch helps to remind the researcher who you are, making them more likely to take your inquiry seriously. As Dr. Anagnostopoulos suggests, the most important thing is to “Strive to achieve it. For this to happen, prepare to be motivated, focused, clear about your objectives and capacity, patient, inventive and adaptable.” 

Before you contact someone, it is important to have a clear idea of what you want to achieve with the collaboration and what is going to be your input. As the basic “playground rule”, you have a better chance that someone will “play” with you if you have a toy to “trade” or “offer” to your playmates. Consider if the collaboration is of mutual interest or not, and the resources of the researcher that you want to collaborate with, so your proposal fits both. For Louise Purton, Associate Director and Lab Head at St. Vincent’s Institute in Australia, “It helps if the collaboration is of mutual interest to both parties- we are all so busy in research and trying hard to get publications and funding that not many labs have spare time/money these days to put towards projects that are different to their research interests. While this is a shame, as cross-disciplinary collaborations can produce amazing "outside of the box" stories, at the moment many researchers need to keep focused to continue to get the funding for their research.”

To succeed in collaborations, “communication is critical”, as Dr. Goodell advises. “Suggest establishing a set of phone calls or meetings so that you are forced to see the progress of each other toward a common goal.”  Consider discussing authorship issues in advance- if not specifics, then general approach (what constitutes co-first-authorship?).  This can be motivating to the trainees. Dr. Zon agrees and notes “Things will change as time goes on, and it is better to be flexible”.   

Another motivator for collaborations is to establish common goals and incentives. Dr. Steidl suggests developing collaborative grant applications based on the collaborative work, "This ensures that all parties have a high interest in the success of the project -and not just the lab that is leading the publication efforts.”

How to minimized the risks of a bad collaboration?
Authorship issues, bad communication of goals and objectives or just because you and your collaborator were not meant for each other, are often the culprit of collaborations gone bad. “Collaborations are like relationships. Some work very well and continue to do so, others never really progress far, and just fizzle out,” said Dr. Purton. Dr. Goodell warns, “The interests of your collaborator are not always well aligned.  Might have different pre-conceptions about who does what, about what authorship should be, or what the timeliness (urgency) of the work should be.” When things just don’t work out the way you expect, “discuss it openly and decide together the next steps (if there will be any). If you have to completely abandon the project, explain the reasons to your collaborators in a timely manner. And don't let this make you give up on collaborations. "Making scientific friends is also difficult” advises Dr. Konstantinos Kokkaliaris, one of our junior investigators. 

Dr. Zon shares his experiences remarking, “There is only very small risk associated with collaboration.  In my career of 22 years, I have only had one collaboration that became antagonistic.  Collaboration involves some give and take.”  Dr. Anagnostopoulos corroborates this sentiment by stating “Collaborations pose few risks provided they are grounded on scientific merit as well as respect and openness. In my long professional career, I have never faced problems with collaborations forged with this spirit – whenever obstacles appeared, these stemmed out of fundamental disagreement on principles and objectives, emphasizing the need for careful pre-planning and transparency.” You should “learn from the experience and try again: experience requires training!”

Collaborators without borders? 
The rules of collaboration may also be cultural, and when we decide to collaborate overseas, we should take that into consideration, as this can be more complex than deciding whether we should “kiss, bow or shake hands”. There may be differences, not only cultural, but in science funding and customs rules (to import or export samples or reagents). According to Dr. Hector Mayani, head of the Oncology Research Unit in Mexico, “scientific collaboration in developing countries is a different story”. “Collaboration in Latin America and other developing areas of the world should be more common than it is. But the truth is that it is sometimes difficult to conduct collaborative studies –at least good collaborative studies- between research labs in “third world” countries. One reason for that seems to be the fact that “professional science” is relatively recent in developing countries; thus, the culture of collaboration is just being established.” Dr. Mayani believes that collaboration in Latin America will expand in the future, not only between labs within the region, but to labs from developed countries, as he stated -“small” labs have much to offer to “big” labs (let’s not forget the fable of “the lion and the mouse”).  

Take home message
Overall, collaborations add an extra and mostly beneficial component to our lives and our science; you just need to have clear and aligned goals with your collaborator.  

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How to get your science noticed: Tips on writing a great scientific abstract

Posted By Connections Editor , Friday, February 28, 2014
Updated: Thursday, February 20, 2014

Eugenia Flores-Figueroa and Teresa V Bowman

New Investigators Committee Members

The call for abstracts for this year’s ISEH meeting has now arrived! Submissions will be received February 17 through April 11. Time to think about writing up your exciting science; here are some tips to help you get organized and get noticed.

An abstract is a brief summary of a research project written to catch the organizers attention so they decide if it fits the conference criteria, and it also serves to attract participants to visit your poster or attend your presentation. A good abstract begins with good science, do not write an abstract of work that you have not done or is not completed.

Before you start writing the abstract, it is important to focus on pre-writing. Ensure that you have a clear idea of the aim of your study, results and conclusions, and that the abstract relates to the conference theme (try not to be driven only by the location of the conference, e.g. Cancun or Paris). Once you pick the conference, review the abstract format guidelines and deadlines very carefully. Avoid sending your abstract the last day; you may encounter a technical problem. If this is your first time writing an abstract, it is always a good idea to read past conferences' abstracts (most of the time they are available on the conference webpage or journal); focus on the abstract with similar methods or subject.

Ready to start typing? The abstract should not exceed the word limit, and within one or two paragraphs you have to be able to cover your study on a clear, concise and stylish way. Do not attempt to write the perfect abstract on your first draft, according to Dr. Kristin Sainani, the longest part of the process is pre-writing and review.

At our 2013 annual meeting in Vienna, Dr. Leonard Zon gave us his advice for presenting your science, that can also be apply to abstracts:

1. Know your audience

2. Start with a brief description of the general topic

3. Second sentence should be the rationale of your work

4. Present the data

5. Conclude

6. Finish with the use of your research

The way you present your ideas is crucial; if you are not a native speaker or a good writer, look for courses online, they are usually free. Dr. Kristin Sainani’s advice for scientific writing includes:

1. - Cut the clutter, after you finish writing your abstract, look for unnecessary words, excessive background and negative sentences. If you find yourself looking for synonyms to avoid repetition that means your sentence and paragraph need review.

2.- Use active voice and strong verbs, avoid using the verb to be, highlight all the verbs on your abstract and review them. Use active voice.

3.- Beware of punctuation -there is more out there than points and commas-. A bad use of punctuation can change the meaning of your sentence; a good use will make your ideas clear and stylish.

The last part to evaluate from your abstract is the logical flow of ideas.

Examine the logical structure; can it attract visitors to your poster?

Before submitting your abstract:

Make sure it is within the word limit and that authors, institutions and content are correct. Have someone else approve the abstract and hit the send button!

Remember that your abstract will talk about you and it could be the first impression of you and your science.


How to write a good abstract for a scientific paper or conference presentation

Chittaranjan Andrade. Indian J Psychiatry. 2011 Apr-Jun; 53(2): 172–175.

Kristin Sainani. Writing in the sciences.

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Why belong to ISEH? New Investigators share their thoughts

Posted By Eugenia Flores-Figueroa, ISEH New Investigator Committee, Thursday, January 9, 2014
Updated: Thursday, January 9, 2014

Meet the New Investigator Committee members and their top reasons for being involved with ISEH. We asked them to share their thoughts and experiences as a part of our society. ISEH has a unique and special focus on new investigators, students and post docs, and will give you the opportunity to connect to the right people and enhance your training. We would love to hear your experience through our social media, visit our sites and let us know why you belong to ISEH on Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

"I am a member of ISEH because I feel like my voice is heard. The society really cares about junior investigators and our interest. I never miss the ISEH annual meeting because I know great science will be presented and I will get a chance to speak with both established and junior colleagues one-on-one. The atmosphere at the meeting is so welcoming and natural, it is easy to approach even big name PIs during one of the many social events”

Teresa Bowman (USA) 

"This is quite possibly one of the friendliest meetings I have ever been to. The opportunities for networking are outstanding and the emphasis on getting young investigators participating at the meeting means that it's easy for graduate students and post-docs to have meaningful interactions with world-renowned professors.”

Michael Milssom (Germany) 

"I have attended the conference for 3 consecutive years. I have found someone from another lab, working on something quite similar to what I research. This was at first frightening, but then turned exciting since I was able to discuss my research with other researchers and share perspectives. The compact size and the friendly atmosphere of ISEH allows young researchers to go forward and network. I feel that PIs are more approachable at ISEH than other meetings.

They also have very nice social events. I was shocked to see senior PIs dance. I'm Japanese. I didn't imagine that my senior PI would appreciate club music and dancing. But it seems that the event is a delight for many people in my country.”

Ayako Ishizu (Japan) 

"ISEH is a great community with plenty of networking opportunities for young investigators. I met many people with similar interests at the annual meetings, it is always at a great location and the perfect size to have a few intense days of science and networking”.

Peter van Galen (Canada) 

"I particularly like the ISEH meetings for two reasons apart from the great science presented there. Firstly, it is small enough to interact with everyone from PhD students to senior professors, and secondly there is a great focus on new scientists”.

Sofie Singbrant Soderberg (Sweden) 

"First, it is easy to find people to discuss ideas with at the ISEH meeting compared to some of the larger hematology meetings. Second,everyone in the society is very familiar with each other’s work so little background explanation is needed and the insights are very deep. Andalmost every poster and talk is interesting to my field and has something that can be applied to my research”.

Grant Challen (USA) 

"ISEH brings a friendly group of scientists who are willing to chat and share ideas. Fantastic opportunities for New Investigators to meet with some of the leaders in their field. There is also a great opportunity to meet other like-minded people from around the world in an intimate, relaxed friendly environment at the annual ISEH conference. ISEH is a place where you can easily develop long-lasting friendships and fruitful collaborations.The conference is all about networking, hearing about hematological research that is at the leading edge and having an enjoyable time.”

Sarah Ellis (Australia) 

"ISEH is an international community of blood specialists offering unique opportunities for networking and scientific collaborations for young and established scientists.The meeting allows for a a good ratio between PIs/students-postdocs, making it a great opportunity to approach the ''big names'' in the field”.

Konstantinos Kokkaliaris (Germany) 

"My story at ISEH began with the new millennia (29th meeting at Tampa, FL) and along with a challenge, it was my first international meeting and the first time I gave a talk. I learned three important lessons at my first meeting: to discuss your project with experts in your field, to meet and put a face on the authors of the papers I was reading, and to see those authors dancing the "chicken dance” at the social event. My former mentor introduced me to ISEH and I hope I can soon bring my own students.”

Eugenia Flores-Figueroa (Mexico) 

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ISEH launches social media

Posted By Connections Editor, Wednesday, March 6, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Connect to your colleagues and stay on top of new developments in our field. This initiative aims to enhance and facilitate a two-way communication between our society and its members to:

  • Get first hand news on ISEH and our annual meeting.
  • Connect to your colleagues.
  • Make new collaborations.
  • Share and exchange ideas and discussions.
Three fast and accurate ways to connect:

: Being among the most commonly used social networks, our Facebook group aims to bring together scientists from different levels, inform them about upcoming events and set the ground for vivid discussions. Join us on Facebook.

LinkedIn: More focused on career development, LinkedIn is about accessing peoples professional history and follow discussions about research, medicine, industry, or any of your work-related interests. Advance your career with us on Linked-In.

Twitter: Straight to the point. Find all the information within a 140-character message (tweet). Great tool for peer to peer communication. Easily share and access resources (links, videos, photos). Look for our live feed at the ISEH Meeting. Stay tuned for our live interviews! Follow-us on Twitter.

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ISEH 47th Annual Meeting - Los Angeles, CA

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