In Canada and around the world, there is a simple commodity that causes fluctuations in global markets – oil. You can’t turn on the news, read a paper, or talk to most people right now without having oil or one of its byproducts come up in conversation. I typically find that it is one of three avenues within this particular situation. Either the person is happy that gas is cheap, the person is upset because their oil based investments are taking a turn for the worse, or (in most student’s cases), they’re concerned about graduation because if oil is not making money, usually this means there are less jobs available; and this isn’t even taking into account people not retiring when they’re supposed to, economic recession, and individual’s overall debt that they need to pay back. My past posts have been on personal development, but this one is more focused on research and critiquing it about the creation of a new fade of research. I’m going to call it “oil focused research to get more money” or OFRGMM for short . Okay, it is a working title.

I try to read various forms of news every day, mostly related to finance and investing because of my day job, but the scientist in me still cruises the science sections of some sites. Granted, I don’t go to PubMed nearly as much, because I don’t really have a reason to anymore. What I have been noticing is that you have researchers in one discipline crossing over into other fields of research. Now, I understand why they’re doing it: grant money is extremely tight right now even for the most experienced researchers – there is a reason why people are making the decisions to cut funding, look at how it is spent (hint hint). So it is natural to see this happen.

For example, I worked in one lab where a cardiac researcher spent more time researching a particular plant then actual cardiac disorders, which makes no sense in my opinion. Even today I was reading an article how a microbiologist is researching more efficient methods of oil extraction. Now that is fine, but the issue is that in no way are they actually collaborating with an expert in oil extraction. I’m no expert, and reading a few papers doesn’t make you an expert. Just because you know how the body works in detail, doesn’t mean you should be diagnosing people. I have even noticed this in my own experience with my own work. This can even apply to other fields as well; just because you can analyze literature, doesn’t mean you can actually write a captivating literature novel.

So here is the point I am trying to make, and I think it is a valid one with a key hindrance in how research is currently done: I have been noticing that collaboration is now just a word that is thrown around to make funding agencies and individuals happy, but it isn’t actually practiced. As scientists we are trained to think a certain way, a very specific way actually. By the time we complete our graduate degrees and training, we have a very specific train of thought and knowledge base . We are also taught that reading papers is a solution to most problems. This is a bad thing. In some situations, you have non-experts acting like they are experts. No matter how many papers you read, if your training is in microbiology, you are not an engineer in oil production. If proper research collaboration was performed, imagine how much further most research would be (this is assuming egos, petty differences, and political garbage is put aside).

When you have two minds that think differently but focus on a single project, it can create a very positive effect. This is how investors in companies think/work for example. An investor is not an expert in the production of a product or the service of a company, but they typically know enough to understand the jargon and processes associated with it. This is a form of collaboration. If science took this style into account, research could be done much more efficiently where an expert in one field would be working with another expert (instead of pretending).The quality of research would increase exponentially while saving thousands of dollars for other research projects, student needs, infrastructure, or whatever is needed. And yes, I have a future blog post regarding how expenditure in research is currently done, I read a few papers on it.

Matthew S. Lytwyn