April 20, 2012

International research collaborations offer new horizons for advancing research

sartin

James Sartin, Auburn Unviersity

James Sartin / Auburn University / ASAS President-Elect

Research collaborations between Departments within our University or between Universities are more productive and valued by Universities and granting agencies for both intramural and extramural grants. Increasingly, international research collaborations are being sought by research scientists, and the value and need for such interactions appears obvious from today’s news headlines.

The most startling statistic is the expected growth in the world’s population and the need to feed this population. This issue of population growth combined with issues such as food safety, climate change and biosecurity are all critical global needs. Problems in food security may be multifaceted and differ with respect to local areas and customs. Determining the extent of problems and then seeking and implementing solutions require an international research and education effort to be effective. Moreover, these problems may be overly expensive for a single country to pursue and thus require multiple research programs across several countries to seek viable solutions to today’s more serious problems.     

A report from 2011 (1) concluded that between 1996 and 2006, 41% of Canadian science research articles were the result of international collaborations. Closer to home, 45% of papers in swine breeding in the decade beginning in 2000 were international papers (2). The rise in the percentages of papers containing international authors is consistent across most disciplines and for all countries. These changes have also been accompanied by dramatic shifts in the population of foreign graduate students attending U.S. Universities. Interestingly, there are a number of factors (and benefits) that contribute to the rise in international collaboration in research. Although not intended as an exhaustive listing, the following are offered for consideration of the advantages of international research collaborations: Research papers with international authors have a greater scientific impact (3); international research collaborations also provide a possibility for exposure of research programs to new audiences; increased diversity of sources of funding and increased funding; increased productivity by involving more individuals in the research enterprise, access to new models, techniques and facilities, access to new graduate students and postdoctoral fellows; and larger scale projects are possible with international collaborations. In addition, the scientists in one country may develop greater research capacity as a result of these collaborations, and quite frankly, the competition in science has become global. Moreover, individual Universities are encouraging faculty and students to gain international experiences. Interwoven in these research related activities is the globalization of agribusiness, which requires foreign markets and a competitive workforce with international training and experience. All of these activities provide a compelling reason to pursue international collaborations in animal science research.

 

The American Society of Animal Science has been developing international ties that can become a cornerstone for advancing animal science research collaborations on the international stage. How can ASAS help its members with developing international collaborations? First ASAS can foster cooperation among animal science societies around the world (4). Examples include speaker-exchange programs and the joint international animal science society projects such as publication of Animal Frontiers, which firmly establish ASAS as a Society with international science collaborations. ASAS can provide webinars from international meetings to U.S. and non-U.S. audiences, and ASAS can implement additional joint meetings and other international venues. Perhaps the easiest place to develop international research, teaching and extension contacts is at our Joint Annual Meetings. Indeed, as a result of ASAS international efforts, the Society now has the largest international and total membership numbers in our history. At the Joint Annual Meetings there are research presentations and symposia as well as social events that can provide the opportunity to engage in conversation and develop the types of relationships that lead to future collaborations. In addition, ASAS provides the Journal of Animal Science and Animal Frontiers, which publish the best animal science research from around the world. With the availability of modern communications technology, making and maintaining contacts as well as developing projects has never been easier.

Have my own international experiences been rewarding and useful? I would say a resounding ‘yes.’ While at an international meeting, I met my first postdoctoral fellow and had him join my lab. In addition, I have been asked to write review articles from my talks at these meetings. I have also obtained an antibody that was critical to my research, acquired experimental drugs at no cost, identified graduate students, and I have been exposed to new ideas and different ways of thinking about problems. More recently, I developed a collaboration to perform techniques that were necessary to obtain my current grant. And, of particular value to me, are the close friends I have made from around the world.

Example sources for funds to develop international collaborations:

http://www.asas.org/fnd_pond.asp

http://www.fas.usda.gov/icd/rsed/res-scient-exchanges.asp

http://www.fas.usda.gov/itp/canada/Dec2011/default.asp

http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503285

http://www.gatesfoundation.org/Pages/home.aspx

http://www.fic.nih.gov/Pages/Default.aspx

If you know of scientific meetings or scientific societies where ASAS should develop ties and represent the membership of ASAS, or have other ideas to foster international collaborations, please contact ASAS headquarters.

References:

  1. http://www.science.gc.ca/default.asp?lang=en&n=DCBC88CA-1
  2. Hohenboken WD, J. Anim. Sci. 2009. 87:390–399; http://jas.fass.org/content/87/1/390.full.pdf
  3. http://image.guardian.co.uk/sys-files/Education/documents/2007/07/13/OSICollaborationSummaryRepo.pdf
  4. Looper, M., ASAS International Programs: A global voice for animal science. Taking Stock. April 16, 2012. http://takingstock.asas.org/?p=3119