I am an assistant professor of chemistry. My department strongly values international collaborations. I contacted some research groups working on the same topics as mine, but half of them wanted my fund, and the other half thought I want theirs.

My imagination of research collaboration was that two groups do parts of a research idea by their available funds, and then preparing a joint paper by combining the results.

For example, a common suggestion I received is that they can host a PhD student or a postdoc fellow (for a minimum period of one year for the sake of official paperwork and adaptability) if I have a fund. How can I fund someone to work somewhere else on a project different from my funded project? And how is it a collaboration after all?

In my experience, it is very difficult to spend research funds in another country. It is even impractical to send joint proposals (unless there are governmental agreements between two countries). I wonder how do researchers from various countries plan international collaborations (which is apparently very common based on the joint papers)?

  • 1
    Go to international conferences and present papers. Meet people with similar work.
    – Dawn
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:27
  • @Dawn while I agree with you that personal conversions are much more effective (though the OP has not mentioned the means of his/her contacts), I believe that the question is about working models of collaboration rather than where to find it.
    – Googlebot
    Commented Oct 5, 2017 at 15:59

3 Answers 3


I contacted some research groups working on the same topics as mine,

I think that's kind of the problem. If they are doing the same as you why should there be collaboration? Just to have more people working on that topic? At least in my field you will also almost never see two similar groups join forces to produce papers together.

My imagination of research collaboration was that two groups do parts of a research idea by their available funds, and then preparing a joint paper by combining the results.

That might be another problem. There's no point in collaborating just to collaborate. And I don't know why you are that focused on funding.

What usually happens and how you get collaborations is working together with people doing different things than you do, but together you can do research you won't be able to do alone. So you need to find someone who can help you out with your research problems or you have the expertise to help someone else out. Then you can approach them and ask for a collaboration. Depending on the size of the project and the amount of work the other group has to do you might not even need funding.

Or you can apply for funding together, if it's a nice idea, there are programs for that.

One example from my field (chemistry) would be the collaboration between synthetic chemists and theoretical/computational chemists. Together you can work on a problem from an experimental and a theoretical angle. One good example would be Ken Houk and his research group. He is collaborating with dozens of other research groups and is providing the computational work for the experimental work done in all these other groups.


Generally, and as many questions here on Academia.SE reflect, collaboration typically does not grow from blind-mailing people that you have never spoken to and which, presumably, have little to no idea who you actually are. The fact that many of them thought you are interested in leeching of their funds is not surprising, because that's what a lot of these blind mails boil down to.

Dawn is on the right track in a comment - before you can have collaborations, you need connections. A common way to establish connections is by going to conferences and chatting with people - initially not even necessarily about common work, although the discussion often tends to go there fairly naturally.

Optimally, you would have started this process long before you were an Assistant Professor - in fact, arguably one of the key tasks of an academic supervisor lies in introducing their students into their academic network, exactly so that they have an easier time bootstrapping future collaborations of their own.

Even if you have no real network right now, you can probably still fix this, but you should see this as a marathon, not a sprint. You will need to go to a number of conferences, talk to a lot of people, and and generally be present in the community for some time before your name starts to come up naturally when people think about who to collaborate with on a given topic.

However, once you have started to be somewhat known in the community, even as fast as after your first conference, you can still approach the people that you talked to there with concrete ideas for collaboration. Be prepared that especially initially you may need to put in a bit more effort than they do, particularly if you collaborate with somebody more senior than you. This does not mean that you should do all the work and just put them on the paper, but if a collaboration is your idea it is often assumed that you are also driving the project and ask your collaborator(s) for concrete, actionable input.


Look at all of this from the view of the other researchers. They're happily working away in their lab or office and they get contacted out of the blue from some assistant Professor in America who is basically saying "Hi! I want to collaborate!". What do you think is going through their minds? If I, a researcher here in America, were suddenly contacted by some assistant Professor in, say, Switzerland or Singapore who I had never heard of before about collaborating, a number of questions would be going through my mind: Who is this guy? What is his sub-field? Does he have any character or personality issues? What of benefit is he offering to bring into a collaboration? Is he a good, productive researcher who is worth my time?

Now since you're in a relatively junior position and early in your career, you're pretty much of an unknown entity and you probably can't claim to have a wealth of valuable experience and knowledge that a more senior researcher would have, so that puts you at a disadvantage. You probably do have lots of energy and may be more up-to-date and willing to jump fully into the latest emerging technologies and developments (whereas senior researchers tend to be more conservative and tend to stay with what they're familiar with), so those may be some of your strengths.

I would say that before trying to contact scores of foreign researchers about possible collaborations which you don't know will really benefit you and your research, you first need to do some homework and groundwork. First, think really hard about how the other guy sees you and ask yourself what of value you really have to offer in an international collaboration. The honest answer may be "nothing", in which case you're jumping the gun and need to first work on developing a good research program rather than reaching out for international collaboration. Secondly, if you do have something of value to offer in an collaboration, you need to get out and get more recognition by publishing and attending international conferences where you can meet potential collaborators face-to-face, better exchange ideas, including collaboration ideas, and establish a rapport and make them comfortable with the idea of collaborating with you. Collaborations can come together naturally in those circumstances.

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