The Care and Feeding of Your Scientist Collaborator

Roger Peng

Editor’s Note: This post written by Roger Peng is part of a two-part series on Scientist-Statistician interactions. The first post was written by Elizabeth C. Matsui, an Associate Professor in the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

This post is a followup to Elizabeth Matsui’s previous post for scientists/clinicians on collaborating with biostatisticians. Elizabeth and I have been working for over half a decade and I think the story of how we started working together is perhaps a brief lesson on collaboration in and of itself. Basically, she emailed someone who didn’t have time, so that person emailed someone else who didn’t have time, so that person emailed someone else who didn’t have time, so that person emailed me, who as a mere assistant professor had plenty of time! A few people I’ve talked to are irked by this process because it feels like you’re someone’s fourth choice. But personally, I don’t care. I’d say almost all my good collaborations have come about this way. To me, it either works or it doesn’t work, regardless of where on the list you were when you were contacted.

I’ve written before about how to find good collaborators (although I neglected to mention the process described above), but this post tries to answer the question, “Now that I’ve found this good collaborator, what do I do with her/him?” Her are some thoughts I’ve accumulated over the years.

In the end, I think statisticians need to focus on two things: Go out and find the best people to work with and then help them advance the science.