At this year's LERU Doctoral Summer School, participants used their combined knowledge to create a best practice guide for international research collaborations.
By Lorna Bruce
Research has always been a collaborative endeavour, but activities of institutions and funders to create new partnerships across disciplines is growing, as the demand for multi-disciplinary, international solutions to global issues increases.
The LERU Doctoral Summer School, which was hosted in Edinburgh, embraced the need, paving the way to develop excellence in research collaborations. The week, organised by the Institute for Academic Development and Edinburgh Global, firstly offered a chance for early-career researchers to enhance their understanding of the importance of international partnerships and networks. But more than that, it offered the chance to put principles into practice – the co-authoring of a ‘Collaboration Guide’ using their collective experiences and knowledge, course work and research experts’ advice.
“Researchers who understand how to work effectively with others will be better equipped to generate long-term impact across boundaries between subjects, countries and sectors.”
From Edinburgh's LERU Summer School mission statement
With 52 researchers, representing 25 universities in 16 countries, and covering dozens of disciplines the programme in Edinburgh was a meeting of minds, combining diverse skills and knowledge. What better platform to devise a collaboration guide for peers than this collective effort?
A blueprint for collaboration
During the course of the week, summer school participants worked alongside an experienced author of research skills guides and a graphic designer to produce the guide. The journey had begun even before they arrived - each interviewed a research expert from their own university to provide a specialist foundation of content to advance from.
“This is a crucial point in our Guide to Collaboration. How do you get started in a collaboration? How do you grow your network to open yourself to collaboration? How do you achieve your personal goals in a collaboration? Same answer: You make the most of opportunities.”
Emer Emily Neenan, Summer School student, Trinity College Dublin
Covering start-to-finish aspects of working collaboratively - from motivations, challenges and support to agreements, industry engagement and cultural factors - the guide is a legacy for the summer school, offering an open resource for others to make the most of their research opportunities; it’s now published under Creative Commons, available for use in the research community.
A guide for early career researchers
The guide covers these topics:
• Motivations for Collaborations
• Opening Doors
• Success Factors
• Challenges of Collaborations
• Support for Collaborations
• Partnership Agreements
• Partners Beyond Academia
• Cultural Dimensions
• Key Insights
• Top Tips
• Do it Yourself
Alongside working on the collaboration guide, much of the week’s itinerary mimicked many aspects of it, with input from experts via the experienced academics involved, support from an enthusiastic team from Edinburgh Global, and exposure to some fine Scottish culture at a whisky tasting and ceilidh, complete with a kilted piper!
A vision for European partnerships
With the UK poised to leave the European Union, the significance of the activities of the summer school are clear: setting aside politics, the need and the desire for continued research collaboration are widely shared across institutional partners and networks - and of course, the researchers themselves. It’s clear from the friendships formed. It’s clear from the teamwork and effort. It’s clear from the professionalism and expertise. It’s clear from the lasting legacy they’ve created.
“It’s a great opportunity to develop these partnerships, to really integrate the need for collaboration within the new generation that are coming through, because that’s how we’ll solve problems for the future.”
Mo Atif, Summer School student, Sorbonne University
“This group came to Edinburgh because of a shared interest in collaboration but have built a wonderful community which will persist.”
Dr Sara Shinton, Head of Researcher Development, Institute for Academic Development
And the University is clear on that too. Being an active member of LERU - an association of leading European research-intensive universities - highlights how our research community plays an invaluable part in strengthening partnerships and creating opportunities between UK and European institutions via high-quality teaching and knowledge exchange.
“Being part of LERU helps ensure that the University remains close to dialogue in Europe, we continue to feed in and shape policy in relevant areas and we have a strong group of European friends and colleagues amongst LERU members who will collectively add voice to our efforts to mitigate against the worst that Brexit may throw at us.”
Helen McMillan, Regional Director Europe
"We are at a difficult time in our history where the spotlight is on relationships and collaboration with our European neighbours. The academy knows that it is vital that we develop such skills in the researchers of the future and what better way than to bring together the brightest and best from the top European Research Universities to experience first-hand the process and pains of collaboration. Congratulations to all the participants along with the Institute for Academic Development and Edinburgh Global teams for delivering a summer school which not only provided training and a positive memorable experience but also produced a tangible output in the form of a guide to collaborations.”
Antony Maciocia, Dean of Postgraduate Research
Overall it’s clear – the Summer School was a valued opportunity, for the experiences and gains for those who attended, and it will continue to be valued by others starting out on their paths in international collaborative research through the effective guidance they created.