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Benjamin Shapiro
Fischell Department of Bioengineering
Joint appointment with:
Institute for Systems Research
2246 Kim Building
University of Maryland
College Park, MD 20742
Tel: (301) 405-4191
Fax: (301) 405-9953

Collaboration and Sharing ideas
Kris Pister, Berkeley

Talk about your ideas. Help your colleagues work out their problems. Pay attention to what other people are doing, and see if you can learn something, or if you can contribute.

Other than the mundane goal of getting your PhD ;), you are in graduate school to push back the frontiers of knowledge. You do this by generating and exploring new ideas. There is no way that you will ever be able to explore all of the ideas that you generate, but some of those ideas that you discard might be just what some of your colleagues are looking for.

Human nature tends to make us want to hoard our own ideas. You have to fight against that. Human nature also tends to make us treat other people's ideas with disrespect. The closer the idea to our own area of research, the more likely some part of our brain will try to find fault with it. Fight against that even harder.

You will find many people in academia who give in to the dark side. These Stealth Researchers never discuss what they are working on, except in vague and deceptive terms. They are experts at finding fault with the work of their colleagues. The Stealth Researcher writes papers that make very grand claims, but you can never quite figure out what they've accomplished and what they haven't. He is a master at omitting the key detail of the design or process that would enable others to follow his work. The Stealth Researcher is a knowledge diode, a roach motel for information. He has replaced the fundamental goal of discovery and publication with the twin evils of ego and empire.

Be open about what you are working on. Be honest about what you've done, and even more honest about what you haven't. Don't ever hide an idea for fear that someone will steal it, even if you are talking to a Stealth Researcher. With patience, maybe we can cure them.

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