Friday, March 15, 2013

Matchmaking for Collaborative Science and Discovery

Simon Williams, at Soapbox Science, has this to say about the changing style of science:
The days of the lone scientist, immersed in their laboratory, locked in their disciplinary silo, narrowly focused on basic research problems is rapidly becoming a thing of the past. In their place, we see the emergence of a new breed of “Team Science”; where  large, cross-disciplinary teams focus on complex, applied and translational problems.

Not only has the 'disciplinary silo' of days gone by become a rarity, I would even say that it's an unappealing career prospect to most people going through science training.  People like to share their experience and discoveries with others.  Williams write about the Team Science Toolkit, a National Cancer Institute sponsored site to connect these kinds of researchers.

The idea itself isn't new, and I don't claim to be the first one to voice it.  But I've previously commented on how running projects in 'stealth mode' is a bad idea and wrote up a conference session featuring Stephen Minger from GE Healthcare, who described a collaboration between GE and Geron that was essential for learning about industrial scale cell culture.

In addition, there's an interesting description in Williams' blog post of a toolkit developed by Michael O’Rourke at the University of Idaho, who believes that collaborators can be matched based on a set questions that explore their views on how they like to do science:
Examples include whether a researcher prefers quantitative vs. qualitative methods, or reductionist vs. holistic approaches.  By asking questions, the idea is that, by making our dispositions more explicit, we are able to more effectively work through and round them. 
It sounds a lot like a dating service, but putting that aside, it's a very neat concept that should work with professional relationships. 

I'm not sure how many people would take a personality test prior to striking up a collaboration with another investigator or student, but it might be very useful for groups like collaboration centers (like MaRS, where I work) to identify compatible people and make the effort to introduce them. 

And why not? Serendipity plays a big part in discovery and invention.