Collaboration is the key to FEW

The Food-Energy-Water (FEW) nexus reaches far beyond the limits of any one discipline and focuses on interactions between the natural and built physical systems, cyber systems, and social systems. Over the last few months I was privileged to attend a wide range of NSF-sponsored FEW workshops. Despite the diversity of the workshop themes, the challenge of and need for collaboration has been universal.

Collaboration is essential for the productivity of the workshop itself as well as the development of future proposals and research initiatives. Researchers and practitioners must go beyond their theoretical and methodological comfort zones to ask broader and more complex questions that involve unfamiliar approaches.

It can be tough not only to find collaborators, but also to work well with them. Recently, at the National Council for Science and the Environment FEW conference, I attended a session which discussed some of the hurdles faculty face as they try to develop FEW research projects. This session led me to reflect on my experiences at the workshops to offer four pieces of advice for collaboration:

  1. Actively Look for Potential Collaborators. Do not sit tight! Actively seek out people in other disciplines with similar FEW interests. Find them within your university and beyond by looking at faculty interest listings, by asking your colleagues for references and recommendations, by searching at nearby NGOs, Universities, and other research institutions, by attending workshops, or by hosting your own workshop or meeting.
  2. Choose Collaborators Wisely. Pursue people with an interest in collaboration and whose work excites you. Do not dwell on the lone wolves, even if they are great in their field. Good collaborators are people who listen well and are committed to broadening the scope of their work.
  3. Start Working Together Early. To ensure a productive and respectful collaboration, meet with your collaborators early and include them in the development of the research questions, methodology, and project goals. This can lead to better thought out research programs that take advantage of the skills and knowledge of ALL team members.
  4. Be Patient and Respectful. Remember that all team members come with expertise. Do not presume to be an expert in their field, do not suggest your approach is better, and do not assume there is only one way to answer the question. Instead try and understand WHY they do what they do and find ways to make your work and their work complement each other.

By Ariela Zycherman, PhD, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow at the National Science Foundation

The image of waves is from the NSF Science Nation video, Harnessing wave energy to light up coastal communities.

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