As a postdoc in a theoretical STEM field, I have had many wonderful collaborations where all authors contribute non-trivially to the final product. However, there was also many "unbalanced" collaborations: where one author does 90% of the work for example. I am not talking about a situation in which a senior professor is automatically given authorship because of politics. For this question, let's say that we talk about collaborations between researchers of the same academic age/position (e.g. all postdocs).
These unbalanced collaborations are often not a problem per se but can be draining and time-consuming in the long run. To give an example, I have had collaborations where I was almost feeling like a PhD advisor to my collaborator, having to explain/redo everything. In contrast, the balanced collaborations that I experienced were always extremely enriching and efficient in comparison.
As a young and inexperienced researcher, my question is: what is the best approach to choose collaborators?
I see two extreme options:
- Don't worry about it. Accept and nurture every collaboration as they come. If your collaborators are not useful, take the time to help them and make them grow, even at the expense of your own growth. At some point, you might also be the "useless" collaborator and you will be thankful to having been accepted in the collaboration.
- Avoid unbalanced collaborations by seeking only collaborators you can benefit from. This is probably the best approach career-wise. However, I feel like it can lead to toxic behaviors which might do more harm than good in the long run.
Even though there is probably not a right answer to the question, this is something that has been bothering me lately, and I would benefit a lot from insights of more experienced researchers.