Collaboration in Science: Three models

Scientists collaborate frequently. Most science articles have at least two authors.

Some collaborations work well, others fail. The first step to understanding what went wrong is to categorize the collaboration. I distinguish three types:

  • Hierarchical collaboration: the student collaborates with his supervisor, the researcher collaborates with his manager. This form of collaboration is usually long-lived. It usually depends on the available funding and is usually more conservative in nature. The lower you are in the hierarchy, the more you work, usually.
  • Symmetric collaboration: two mathematicians write papers by exchanging conjectures over email. This form of collaboration does not scale well to large numbers: the communication overhead grows quadratically.
  • Topical collaboration: a philosopher writes a paper with a software engineer to describe the philosophy of software engineering. This form of collaboration can suffer from communication problems. The collaboration is usually project-centered. It might be risky research. I would expect this form of collaboration to be especially fruitful. Oddly enough, I cannot think of any famous example of topical collaboration in science.

See also The lonely researcher: a loser?

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