Science is global. Consider cancer research, climate change, stem cell technology, sustainable agriculture, or water purification. Many of the most pressing challenges in any scientific discipline are global in nature and require a global response. As a consequence, international research collaboration is growing rapidly as signaled by, among other things, rising numbers of papers with international coauthors.
The increase of international research collaborations is one of the most important trends of the past couple of years and, in my view, it can only be a good thing. Science transcends borders and so should the researchers who are trying to resolve some of these challenges. International collaboration adds further diversity to the variety of ideas and approaches that any collaboration brings together, making for a rich and productive environment.
Technology is enabling this trend. Historically, scientific collaborations were carried out by scientists in the same physical location. Nowadays, information and communication technologies allow cooperation among scientists from far-flung institutions.
Funding also plays an important role, encouraging international collaborations in certain regions of the world. In the European Union, for example, money is dedicated to fund collaborative research projects between scientists from different member states. But nations such as the U.S. or China present far fewer opportunities in this regard, and so there is less of a financial incentive to seek out and establish cross-national partnerships. In fact, if anything, this may act as a deterrent to researchers in those countries. An international collaboration may slow things down because of the complexities associated with negotiating and resolving the financial and legal matters that the collaboration would introduce.
Europe encourages the internationalization of the scientific endeavor not only by providing funding but also by facilitating the move of researchers from country to country. The physical proximity of European countries means that European scientists are also more likely to meet face-to-face and make site visits. The U.S., China, Russia, and Brazil sit on the other side of the spectrum, where a chemist can be 2,000 miles away from a domestic collaborator. A Boston-San Diego team may be separated by a physical distance far greater than that between collaborators in Madrid and Berlin, but of course only the latter is considered an international collaboration.
Unsurprisingly, within the context of international collaborations, small is good. Small countries, it seems, tend to collaborate more than big ones, perhaps in part because of their size. Small countries offer researchers fewer opportunities for interaction within their borders, providing a strong incentive for international collaboration. In addition, many researchers from small countries are educated abroad as part of those nations’ strategies for developing their research bases. As a consequence, researchers from small countries often publish with their former colleagues.
On the other hand, large countries such as the U.S., which tend to have high overall output and often higher-quality research, offer plenty of research collaboration opportunities domestically. Consequently, there is no need or immediate benefit to seeking out collaborators from abroad.
Do you collaborate with other researchers across the globe? I’d encourage you to share with us your views and experiences.
Changes to the home page On a completely unrelated note, I'd like to highlight the fact that we have made some changes to the C&EN Online home page. In preparation for the redesign we are undertaking this year, we have started decluttering the home page and prioritizing content that we know it is of interest to readers, such as the latest chemistry news and our “Speaking of Chemistry” video series. Much more will follow, but we have started with some basic changes that will improve the overall navigation and the discoverability of our content. I invite you to check out cen.acs.org and tell us what you think.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.