by Douglas M. Green
For research success, collaboration is key.
Engineering professors and industrial partners have worked together on research projects for decades, forging high-profile relationships that have led to many important discoveries. But another kind of partnership—between various academic units—is also valuable in creating alliances that enhance grantsmanship success and research effectiveness.
Teamwork Between Departments
One of the simplest inter-unit academic partnerships arises when investigators from different departments in the same engineering college or school decide to conduct research together. Policies and procedures in departments at the same college are usually identical, but if procedural differences do exist, the department chairs can usually work out equitable compromises.
Even at this modest level of collaboration, all departments represented on a research team must view the common effort as a win-win situation, or their efforts will usually be
sub-optimal. The notion of "do us a favor now, and we will do you a favor in the future" sows the seeds of a potential interdepartmental feud—clearly something to be avoided.
Because colleges or schools within a university also normally share similar policies, collaboration between those units is usually no more complex than between departments in
the same school. In this case, the respective deans can iron out differences in procedures, and the provost's office can help overcome inter-school barriers.
Because colleges or schools within a university also normally share similar policies, collaboration between those units is usually no more complex than between departments in the same school. In this case, the respective deans can iron out differences in procedures, and the provost's office can help overcome inter-school barriers.
Partnerships Between Universities
The most complex of academic collaborative relationships are inter-university partnerships, but they can also reap much greater rewards.
On large proposals, most universities find that they do not have an ace researcher to cover
every technology. There is always the temptation to force-fit a local second-tier investigator into a key research slot, but granting agencies and industry are more impressed when
outstanding researchers occupy all key leadership positions. Agencies find a dream team hard to resist, and such a group will normally attract enough funding to provide opportunities for developing local researchers, as well. Cooperation by universities also provides invaluable communication channels between institutions, and it is a major advantage to get expert critiques from and co-authorship with top researchers at other universities.
Cooperation by universities also provides invaluable communication channels between institutions, and it is a major advantage to get expert critiques from and co-authorship with top researchers at other universities.
But even with these advantages, working with other universities is not without its difficulties, especially if there is no track record of collaboration between the two institutions. Here are some typical steps needed before finalizing any collaborative agreement:
The purpose of these inter-university agreements is to establish a "meta-university" to facilitate a specific research effort. But creating a productive research environment between universities is especially challenging because university presidents do not have the time (or, sometimes, the expertise) to negotiate the terms and conditions, nor to work out procedural differences. You might say that you are working without a net.
Though there are potential hurdles to overcome, shaking hands and joining forces with your colleagues can turn a good project into a great one.
Douglas M. Green is chair of ASEE's Engineering Research Council
Procter & Gamble University Exploratory Research Program
DOT Grants for Innovative Bridge Research
Number: 60 in 1999
DOI Earthquake Hazards Reduction Research Grants
NSF Arctic Research Grants
Grant profiles reprinted from Directory of Research Grants 1999; Oryx Press; 1999; 1,232 pp., $135. Used with permission from Oryx Press, 4041 N. Central Ave., Suite 700, Phoenix, AZ 85012; (800) 279-6799; www.oryxpress.com.