by Vasiliki Mylonopoulou
Almost two years as a PhD student/Early Stage Researcher were enough to realise that it is really easy to forget ourselves sitting in our offices, isolated, writing the next paper, looking for the next idea, or working towards the next deadline. During these years, I heard junior and senior researchers discussing that we should communicate our research, and collaborate, but there is no time because we have to finish this paper and find ideas for the next one.
Last December – exactly after finishing my literature review and before I even had a clear PhD plan – I presented our paper “Context of use and timing of social comparison techniques in behaviour change support: a qualitative systematic review” at MUM2016 conference. The paper describes the behaviour change stages a person goes through and the suitability of different technologies in each stage. At the same conference, Stina Nylander presented the paper “Drifting Off Course – how Sports Technology Can Use Real-Time Data to Add New Dimensions to Sports”. The paper introduces an application that can contribute to the sport “orienteering” by providing real time data relevant to the player’s course. The papers – and probably our research – were unrelated, however, I noticed that she was working in SICS in Kista, Stockholm. One of the Swedish research facilities part of the Swedish RISE ICT group, including, Acreo, interactive, SICS, and Victoria, which are in the same building in Kista. So, even if our research were unrelated, there was a high possibility she could know someone relevant.
Until the next break in the conference, I had to find a way to introduce myself and my research in a single sentence that could be understood by a researcher of another field. At the break I gathered all my courage and went towards her: “Hello, my name is Vasiliki and I am a PhD student researching about other people’s influence on an individual’s health behaviour change in IT. I know that my research does not have much relation to yours but I am sure that you know someone who may do research in the same field.”
I was lucky! She gave me the e-mail of her colleague, Marie. I contacted Marie and one month later we had a skype meeting with her and her colleague, Anneli, in Swenglish. We realised that our subjects were overlapping but as my research plan was unclear, we were unable to find a way to cooperate. They told me to contact them again, when I had a plan. Two months after, I presented my plan in INTERACT at University of Oulu, Finland (as it is part of our studies), and right after, I sent it to them. They were working on a project that could be useful for me and they wanted to talk to my supervisor (Minna Isomursu) to ensure that what we discussed was relevant to my research. Exactly after the summer vacation (in the beginning of August), they sent me a mail inviting me to a meeting for a different project that may have been relevant to my research. After a short discussion with Minna, I booked the tickets to Kista for the meeting the following week, in order to see if and how I could relate it to my research. The visit resulted to better understand their projects and for them to better know me and my research. Both projects were relevant, and I could have access to the data of two projects, possibility to validate the primary design guidelines I created, and get experience through collaborating with a Swedish research facility. All this happened just because I talked to a person whose research were not directly related to mine.
Talking to other researchers – regardless if our research is relevant or not – is not a waste of time. It is actually working on the next idea. Collaboration can give us more data, inspiration, and new knowledge as it opens our mind to different perspectives. So, do not hesitate to go to the researcher in the next office, different unit, or different field in a conference and say “I know that my research does not have much relation to yours but… ”