Ten simple rules for a successful cross-disciplinary collaboration – University of Copenhagen

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07 May 2015

Ten simple rules for a successful cross-disciplinary collaboration

Knapp B, Bardenet R, Bernabeu MO, Minssen T, Bordas R et al. (2015) Ten Simple Rules for a Successful Cross-Disciplinary Collaboration. PLoS Comput Biol 11(4): e1004214. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1004214


Cross-disciplinary collaborations have become an increasingly important part of science. They are seen as key if we are to find solutions to pressing, global-scale societal challenges, including green technologies, sustainable food production, and drug development. Regulators and policy-makers have realized the power of such collaborations, for example, in the 80 billion Euro "Horizon 2020" EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. This programme puts special emphasis on “breaking down barriers to create a genuine single market for knowledge, research and innovation” (http://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon20​20/en/what-horizon-2020).

Cross-disciplinary collaborations are key to all partners in computational biology. On the one hand, for scientists working in theoretical fields such as computer science, mathematics, or statistics, validation of predictions against experimental data is of the utmost importance. On the other hand, experimentalists, such as molecular biologists, geneticists, or clinicians, often want to reduce the number of experiments needed to achieve a certain scientific aim, to obtain insight into processes that are inaccessible using current experimental techniques, or to handle large volumes of data, which are far beyond any human analysis skills.

The synergistic and skilfulcombining ofdifferent disciplines can achieve insight beyond current borders and thereby generate novel solutions to complex problems. The combination of methods and data from different fields can achieve more than the sum of the individual parts could do alone. This applies not only to computational biology but also tomany other academic disciplines.

Initiating and successfully maintaining cross-disciplinary collaborations can be challenging but highly rewarding. In a previous publication in this series, ten simple rules for a successful collaboration were proposed [1]. In the present guide, we go one step further and focus on the specific challenges associated with cross-disciplinary research, from the perspective of the theoretician in particular. As research fellows of the 2020 Science project (http://www.2020science.net) and collaboration partners, we bring broad experience of developing interdisciplinary collaborations. We intend this guide to be for early career computational researchers as well as more senior scientists who are entering a cross-disciplinary setting for the first time. We describe the key benefits, as well as some possible pitfalls, arising from collaborations between scientists with very different backgrounds.

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