Research Tips for Criminal Enterprise

[Blows off dust. Taps mic.]

Phew. It’s still on.

It’s been a while but I guess it just felt like time to break the silence. It’s not entirely that I’ve been silent everywhere. There’s just been this kids’ anaesthesia blog and that prehospital and retrieval medicine one and … ah, forget it. Excuses are just as interesting as the politicians usually making them.

In the meantime, I have had the chance to start a whole new project. There’s just all that time during a PhD and all.

Of course it’s probably foolhardy and there will be times I regret it but it’s cool so I felt compelled to jump right in.

And of course I can’t say what it is. Yet.

What I can say is that the whole experience, triggered by a quick chat on Twitter of all places and set up within two weeks, has really driven home how vital good collaborators are in getting things done. There is really nothing I could get done with this new project that doesn’t rely on people with entirely different skills being part of the team. Which is awkward because people are complex beasts to deal with you might have noticed.

This is at a time when we’re always being told that research prepares you for all sorts of possible lives that might not even be about research. It’s all about “transferable skills” and “attention to detail” and “beating your head against a wall even after you’ve started that friction fire with your temple”.

So in sharing the things that seem to make this particular collaboration work I hope that there will be things in there that are useful for your next bit of research. Or the criminal enterprise you set up instead of research so you can make some actual money.

1. Don’t be shy

It’s easy to not say hello to people. It’s far more comfortable to just stay in your own little corner and look after you. The thing is your enterprise is very likely to need more than just you to make it happen. Depending on your special attributes you might be superb at time series analysis or inventive ways to funnel money into corporations that look like real businesses but you’ll still need someone else to do the engineering or maybe provide the physical menace to raise that money in the first place. Getting out there is the first part of finding collaborators. It’s sort of an annoying reality for me, but it has to get done.

2. Know your bits

It pays to have a very clear idea of what your role in the enterprise might be. Be clear at the beginning of what you can do and just as importantly what you can’t do or have no experience with. Assumptions at the start that turn out to be wrong down the track are … not great.

3. Get to know their talents

You don’t have to know the fine details of what your collaborators do but having some insight is important. If you understand a little bit what they do it makes it easier to tailor your contribution to help them do that job. The more you line up the more the work each member offers will complement the work of the other and the quicker things will move.

4. Do what you say you will do

I can’t stress this enough. If you say you are going to do a particular thing that is part of the project, then do it. Don’t say you’ll do it and plan excuses. Don’t pretend you’re up to it when you know you’re not. Just get it done. There will be times when the project will run on goodwill and that’s going to be a commodity doing poorly on the exchange if you are known not to deliver. If you’re going to get the ethics bit done, get it done. Same as I imagine if it’s your job to arrange a getaway vehicle, you’re unpopular if you don’t do that.

King Julian

Here is a lemur who I bet is really irritated because someone on the team didn’t update the shared lit folder via Dropbox like they said they would.

5. Be clear

Don’t leave it to what you guess each individual will do. Communicate clearly at the start then the whole way through. Regular check-ins to see what the progress is and agree where you are on the particular page you planned prove to be pretty useful. Particularly if you’ve never been in this position before be it in the lab or dividing up body disposal chores.

6. Get out

Every great collaboration is probably going to come to an end. Maybe the project is done. Maybe the next phase of the project just needs something different. Maybe it’s time to split up and lay low while people are looking for you. Any which way a regular stop to evaluate if it’s worth continuing seems prudent.

Of course if you do decide to split you don’t have to be a jerk about it. Establishing good communication and expectations in all the other bits would, you’d hope, keep it civil from this point on.


That’s probably not all of it but I guess it’s a start. It might just get us a lot of the way there for getting this very cool and almost public thing done. Or maybe I’ll be ready to move ruthlessly with a group of questionable ex-academic characters if an opening comes up in this corner of the city.

At the very least I might avoid irritating the lemur.



That underwhelmed lemur was sourced via the Creative Commons bit of flickr and is unchanged from the post by Adrien Sifre.






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