Collaborative Research: Barriers and Strategies

Reflections from the Collaborative Research Faculty Learning Community, including the following participants: Christine Beaudoin, Mark Gleason, Deborah Lown, Azizur Molla, Shaily Menon, Rick Rediske, Linda Shuster, and Peter Wampler


“Silo” mentality between disciplines and colleges. Philosophical and discipline-specific barriers make it difficult for colleagues from different departments to collaborate. These barriers are often rooted in misconceptions about what is “traditional” for a discipline. For example, collaborations between the physical and social sciences are often challenging due to differences in language and research styles.  

 Lack of knowledge about what colleagues are doing. Faculty members often are not aware of the activities and expertise of colleagues at their own institution and at other institutions, which makes it difficult for them to identify individuals with specific expertise and interests that would be helpful in exploring and establishing potential collaboration.

Lack of awareness of collaboration benefits. Collaborative projects take a lot of time and effort but also offer benefits, which make them a good investment and option for some projects. Complex problems have many interconnected components and tackling these effectively requires collaboration between people with diverse experience and skills. Faculty members do not always have examples, opportunities, or role models for successful collaboration, and are unable to evaluate the benefits of collaboration.

Fear of collaboration. Why would anyone fear collaboration? Several reasons were discussed in our Faculty Learning Community, including 1) a personality that favors independence over collaboration; 2) previous bad experiences from attempting to collaborate; and 3) tenure pressures which value independent work over collaborative work.

Complexity of scheduling collaborative teaching and collaborative activities between classes. There was agreement among the FLC members that collaboration between students and collaborative teaching is valuable. However, since course scheduling and teaching loads are determined by each department, it is often difficult to accommodate collaborative teaching and student experiences.


Change in the CSCE interdisciplinary grant funding cycle. There was general consensus among the FLC members that most interdisciplinary projects require more time than individual projects due to the logistics of collaborative research. The one-year time limit for current CSCE grants is often too short to complete complex interdisciplinary projects. A process for granting “no cost extensions” may be an effective interim step in some cases.

Seed money or release time for developing collaborative groups. The FLC members suggested developing a smaller grant ($2000 to $5000) program that provides seed money or release time for groups to do the groundwork to establish collaborations or to do pilot research to demonstrate the potential for the project to be successful. Assigned time would be allocated for a facilitator or coordinator to develop and maintain collaborations.

External grant opportunities. Several grant mechanisms, such as the National Science Foundation INSPIRE grants or the Human Frontier Science Program, provide funding for collaborative efforts to address complex problems, which are better addressed through an interdisciplinary approach.

Student/faculty awards and competitions. We recommend a new award for GVSU faculty and/or students to recognize exemplary collaboration efforts. These efforts may include collaborative projects between students, faculty and students, among faculty, and with community partners. We also recommend promoting existing student competitions (such as the Wegeprize) and establishing our own student competitions which would encourage students to think outside traditional discipline boundaries to solve complex problems.

Collective fund for collaborative research. Each college would contribute to a collective fund designated to facilitate university-wide collaborative efforts through a competitive grant process. This would be a modified version of the current CLAS research clusters and would allow many additional cluster ideas to be included. There may also be an opportunity to redirect unspent faculty development funds allocated to each department/unit for this purpose.

Community Engagement colloquia. The Office for Community Engagement is organizing a monthly colloquia series which highlights issues and topics related to collaborative projects at GVSU and beyond.

Collaboration conferences. We are recommending conferences at GVSU similar to the Big Data Conference that bring together people interested in interdisciplinary projects. Other ways to share and bring people together should be explored, such as webinars, video clips, and online conferencing.

Digital Measures and online visibility. Faculty research and projects need to be more discoverable by colleagues at GVSU and beyond. Digital Measures is a good database for storing data related to faculty activity and research. Increased portability is needed to make these data accessible and searchable.

Collaboration coordinator. Faculty often find it difficult to allocate the time needed to initiate and maintain collaborative projects. There may be opportunities to capitalize on the experience and connections of emeritus faculty to help coordinate collaborative or community engagement projects.

Joint appointments. One approach used at other institutions to facilitate and encourage collaborative activities is joint appointments. Joint appointments for new and existing faculty should be considered as a means for encouraging more effective collaboration.

Recognition within the tenure process. Interdisciplinary work is often complex and may not yield traditional tangible products such as peer-reviewed publications or meeting presentations. We recommend more explicit recognition of the collaborative process, including recognition within the tenure and promotion process of documented progress of collaborative research activities and interim products that result from those activities.

Opportunities through FTLC. Use FTLC workshops, the Fall Teaching and Learning Conference, and the Faculty Teaching Circles to promote sharing of information and best practices related to collaborative projects.

Highlighting collaborative research. Raise awareness about ongoing collaborative activity at GVSU through newsletter articles, GVSU publication articles, the popular press, and web sites. Prepare visual learning tools using teaching and research findings in a variety of formats and venues.

Sharing best practices and lessons learned. Use various online media and presentations to share with colleagues on campus and beyond, the best practices of effective and successful collaborative projects and lessons learned.












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