Why collaborate?

This story starts back in early June 2015. 

I was in the process of writing the very first proposal for my PhD research (little did I know that it would take me another year before I actually started the thing!). I had a concrete idea of what I wanted to do: I wanted to look at communication enhancement for people with dementia living in a long-term care setting. I very tentatively shared this proposal with a small group of trusted colleagues.

There were lots of positive comments about my work, and I felt that it led on nicely from the work I had done for my honours. I was excited.

... but I quickly came crashing down when one of my colleagues pointed me in the direction of a researcher who had just completed her PhD in an area that she felt was similar to my proposal. This researcher was the lovely Dr. Michelle Bennett. In our early email interactions, it became obvious that Michelle and I had a shared passion for communication and dementia... so much so that she had indeed completed a PhD that was spookishly similar to what I had proposed. She wrote to me:

"...many of your sections in the introduction sound remarkably like myself. That means we have common goals and share a common vision." (quoted from a personal email, with permission)

This was lovely to hear, of course. But in those very early days, I was honestly shattered... not that I told Michelle this at the time, of course. I felt dejected and worried that my ideas were not original and that I would not be able to do the PhD that I wanted to do (I can be quite dramatic!).

However, Michelle, along with other mentors of mine, encouraged me to use the current research as a springboard into something new and different, something that could extend on the wonderful work Michelle had completed. Michelle and I remained in contact, and after developing a sense that we would work well together, I volunteered to assist her with her research, provided she saw some benefit to my involvement in her work.


I was soon invited to collaborate with Michelle and Dr. Jade Cartwright (another Australian researcher in dementia and communication) on a national survey they were conducting to look at how speech pathologists were currently serving the aging population. The idea was to see if the current services provided by speech pathologists in Australia would be sufficient to meet the demands of an aging population. I am delighted to say this collaboration has culminated into a recently published paper in the International Journal of Speech-Language Pathology called 'Is the speech-language pathology profession prepared for an ageing population? An Australian survey' [LINK]. This study found that, indeed, current models of service provision are insufficient. This study found that there is a need for Speech Pathologists to extend their scope of practice, and improve their models of support to clinicians, in order to meet the increasing needs of an ageing population in Australia. I am so grateful to Michelle for inviting me to be a part of this project, the findings of which I hope will be useful to those clinicians advocating for greater involvement of Speech Pathologists in the care of older Australians. This is just the first of a small suite of papers we are planning- more to come. I'll be sure to keep you posted!

I recently heard a research student say that they knew of a researcher doing very similar work to theirs, but that they had been advised by a mentor NOT to connect with the researcher before their own work had been published. I appreciate that there are a whole lot of political reasons why this advice might be offered (concerns re: intellectual property, publication pressures etc.). However, in my (admittedly very short) academic career thus far, I have had only positive experiences of connecting with other researchers. Although I have never met Michelle or Jade in person- oh the wonders of current technology- I  have gained so much from my interactions with them.

There are several morals to this story... a little bit of advice for grad students and established researchers alike:

  • Seek connection with like-minded people... set yourself up to be supported and inspired!

  • Remain open to new ideas- push the boundaries and be ambitious

  • Be open to collaboration- everyone benefits when ideas and expertise (and time!) are shared

  • Be generous with your time, expertise, support and enthusiasm

With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see that this chance encounter (or so it seemed) has shaped where I am today and where I am going in the future. I encourage you to SHARE and to CONNECT. SAY YES TO COLLABORATION!

Jessica Young2 Comments