Why do Researchers Work In Isolation?


There is a common stereotype of research scientists working in isolation. Unfortunately, this is more true than it needs to be. It is especially surprising given how well connected we are today between our smartphones and various social media apps. There is still a surprisingly low level of constant communication among research scientists both within a lab and between labs. In fact there are several studies (like this one and this one) that show that the internet has basically no impact on research collaboration and productivity! Isn’t that amazing?!

The three main points reasons for this could be

Lack of willingness to share ‘confidential’ information
A belief that no one else knows the answer
Waiting for the meeting or conference

I personally do not see any of these being very strong arguments, and various fields have enabled ways to overcome these barriers, such as Physicists using arXiv to pre-publish.

Research Scientist

Unfortunately, researchers often stick to these arguments, though there is now a slow but growing movement to socialize discoveries via twitter and blogs. These are still nascent, and I hope will continue to grow.

On the flip side the internet has had major impact in the ability to publish open-access work (PLOS, arXiv) find published work (Google Scholar), and is now enabling very easy contract research work (ScienceExchange) or even robotic labs accessible via the internet (Emerald Cloud Lab). Hopefully, the number of companies and tools out there enabling a superior scientific workforce continues to grow!

Rishabh Jain, PhD, MIT, is the CEO of OpenLab. This article originally appeared on blog.openlabapp.com.