So much more than a collaboration

I have a wonderful collaborator who is increasingly becoming a great mentor as well. She has invited me to speak at conferences, written recommendation letters for grants and jobs, and provided tons of career advice. While my graduate and postdoctoral mentors are wonderful, my postdoc mentor will be retiring soon, and grad mentor’s projects are not very closely related to my own. So developing this additional relationship should be very helpful moving forward. Even without these considerations, having multiple mentors can’t be a bad thing.

Of course, I need to make this relationship worthwhile to my collaborator to keep reaping the benefits. No matter how invested in helping younger scientists along, mentors often have their own self-preservation interests in mind. Whether it be the relationship between an advisor and their student/postdoc, or a collaborative relationship, the more senior scientist has something to gain if the younger investigator succeeds. In the case of this relationship, our research appears to be inextricably linked, with each of us having very different expertise. So keeping this going should be fairly straightforward, right?

Well, that depends. For one, our projects need to remain linked for this collaboration to really be worth her time. What if we find that our research isn’t overlapping nearly as much as we thought? Or what happens when we’ve reached the end of our joint productivity? Secondly, I need to continue working on the aspect of my project that overlaps with my collaborator’s research. This isn’t as much of a no-brainer as it may seem since, in these days of tight funding, you have to follow the money and not necessarily the collaborations.

For now though, these concerns aren’t pressing, and I get to enjoy the benefits, both the scientific and career-related ones, for a little while longer.

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2 thoughts on “So much more than a collaboration

  1. Don't discount the value that your mentor/collaborator puts on YOU yourself, though: a good mentor will still support you even when you cease to be useful, and it sounds like this mentor thinks of you that way. 🙂

  2. When I was a grad student, the young assistant prof whose lab was next door to my major professor's lab played the role of my surrogate adviser/mentor. When I thanked him for his support later, I discovered he was sort of using me as a practice graduate student – someone he could give advice to without having to be responsible for.

    Long story short, what she is getting out of the relationship might not be completely obvious and she may have her own motives.

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