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Catalysing scientific advancement

13 October 2020
The wonders of science through collaboration
The impact that global collaborations can have in addressing unmet scientific challenges is revolutionary for all areas in science.

In today’s fast paced and changing world, creating a strong network is now more important than ever. Within my own social sphere, I cannot count the number of times I have heard my friends tell me they landed a new job because they knew someone.  

This adage of 'it is not what you know, but who you know' has become an intrinsic part of the scientific community. Traditionally, a vital skill for every scientist is the ability to work independently.

Whilst this remains true today, the modern scientist lives in an environment full of opportunities for global communication, contribution and, most importantly, collaboration. It is now imperative that the scientific community leverage these opportunities to find deep and significant connections with other scientists in related area(s) of interest to increase the impact of their work.

Image: Electron microscope reconstruction of neurons in the mouse cortex, made possible by the inter-disciplinary collaborations

Electron microscope reconstruction of neurons in the mouse cortex, made possible by the inter-disciplinary collaborations (Image Source: Connectome)

Within the neuroscientific domain, a remaining grand challenge is understanding how the human brain works. The unfortunate reality is that brain and mind disorders account for over 40% of all health-related disabilities, yet they remain highly misunderstood.

As a result, our current treatment options for many mental and neurological disorders are inadequate, and many patients never experience an improvement in their health. 

To combat these global health issues, the University of Sydney has integrated multidisciplinary strategies as part of their education program, which led to the launch of the Brain and Mind Centre in 2015.

Through large-scale and global collaborations, the Brain and Mind Centre is now at the forefront of neuroscience research and improving health outcomes for now and future generations. It achieves this by bringing together researchers from various disciplines, with collaborations between leading international institutions and partnerships with communities, industry and government.

Being a part of a scientific collaboration is by no means reserved for world-leading academics or researchers. There are many ways that scientists (or inspiring scientists) can get involved with collaborations, starting with their own networks. Luckily for us, this does not necessarily mean we have to attend every possible networking event!

Collaborations often emerge by starting a small network with people we meet at school, university or work. With the right connections, and a driven mindset to address a global challenge, your network can begin to span disciplinary, national or organisational boundaries.

In addition, the increasing rise of collaborative initiatives across the globe, such as the Human Connectome Project, allows any willing scientist to be placed in a position to create global solutions for unmet scientific challenges.

The rise in popularity of citizen or community science projects additionally provides opportunities for collaborations on a wider scale; there are a number of these projects based at the University of Sydney, including the Breaking Good Project.

Addressing the most complex scientific problems, such as quantum computing and machine learning, requires inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations. As new challenges emerge and evolve in science, the importance of global collaboration becomes unmatched. But, ultimately, why are these collaborations in science so successful and powerful?

The answer is quite simple – collaborating brings about a new perspective. By gathering scientists across disciplines both nationally and across the globe, we are developing new ways of thinking and have begun to accelerate the rate at which we are uncovering the wonders of science and its outcomes.


About the author:

Fernando is currently commencing his PhD with the Faculty of Medicine and Health, University of Sydney.

He is particularly interested in neuroscience focussed on chronic pain research, outreach activities and has worked as a casual academic tutoring undergraduate classes and delivering outreach programs.

Fernando is a recipient of the 2019 Helen Beh Citizenship Award in recognition of his contributions to the Faculty of Science’s outreach activities. See Fernando’s profile.

Written by Fernando Tinoco

PhD student, Faculty of Medicine and Health and Casual Academic, Faculty of Science