Research collaboration: does absence make the heart grow fonder?

Academics are likely to be happier at work if their research involves scholars away from their institution, study reveals

November 30, 2017
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Far-flung: cosmopolitan contentment

While academics love many things about their research collaborators, spending large amounts of time in their company is not necessarily one of them, a study suggests.

Analysing data on 19,200 PhD graduates working in US universities, as well as government and industry research institutions, researchers at Arizona State University found that academic staff who worked in different laboratories, institutions or countries to their research collaborators are significantly happier than those working in close proximity to their co-authors.

The study, “Impact of research collaboration cosmopolitanism on job satisfaction”, published in Research Policy, examined the results of the National Science Foundation-sponsored Survey of Doctoral Recipients, which asked whether individuals were working on a research project with someone outside the current institution.

Academic researchers who had collaborators outside their institution in 2006 had higher job satisfaction four years later, according to authors Jiwon Jung, Barry Bozeman and Monica Gaughan.

The results add to a growing body of evidence around the benefits of researchers cooperating with colleagues outside their institution, following studies that show that internationally co-authored papers are more highly cited than those produced in a single nation.

Given that staff who collaborate in what the authors call a “cosmopolitan pattern” are happier – a trait linked to “better productivity, better health outcomes, lower absenteeism and greater likelihood of remaining in their field [of] work”, they say, policymakers need to think about how they could further encourage this working pattern, the paper recommends.

“Early career policies in academia to support the formation of richer and more extensive collaboration networks among graduate students, postdocs and junior faculty would pave the way for satisfied researchers in the long run,” Mr Jung, a PhD student at ASU’s Center for Organization Research and Design, and its School of Public Affairs, told Times Higher Education.

“Active promotion of cosmopolitan collaboration and the easing of a barrier to such collaboration may result in not only happier but more productive scientists and scientific teams.”

However, Mr Jung said that the study did not explain whether the higher levels of job satisfaction of “cosmopolitan” researchers was explained by their lack of day-to-day physical contact with their collaborators or by other factors, such as the additional resources and more prestigious posts typically held by those collaborating internationally.

“Cosmopolitan researchers having greater access to the broad resources needed for their work and career development possibly explains the greater satisfaction,” Mr Jung told THE.

“They tend to enjoy broader and more diverse social resources and scientific networks, factors known to positively affect salary, job benefits, promotion opportunities and knowledge of new jobs.”


Print headline: Collaborating? To remain happy, remain apart

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