International collaborations: Best practices and common pitfalls

by Sarah Harlan

On February 7, The Halle Institute for Global Research and Learning partnered with the Center for Faculty Development and Excellence to host a panel discussion with four Emory faculty members to discuss their experiences in international work. The panelists shared what they've learned from working on international projects and collaborations, including best practices for international engagement and partnership and for responding to unanticipated hurdles. They also elaborated on how their careers have benefitted from international engagement. The event featured Deborah Bruner from Winship Cancer Institute and the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing, Jeffrey Lesser, director of the Halle Institute Director and chair of the Department of History, Aryeh Stein from the Rollins School of Public Health, and Gonzalo Vazquez-Prokopec from the Department of Environmental Sciences.

Dr. Bruner expounded on her experience in helping to build radiotherapy capacity in Ethiopia to address the country's growing demand for oncology treatment. Infrastructural demands like uninterrupted access to electricity and clean water for radiology equipment were challenges not previously experienced in her work. She emphasized the importance of aligning project efforts with the work of others to ensure that it is a complement rather than a competitor to national objectives and other international projects.

Spending time in country with your collaborators is critical, Dr. Stein noted. In-person engagement is necessary to understand the project in local context, find new connections, demonstrate commitment, and build capacity - for yourself and for your partner.

Capacity building was a key theme among the panelists. And while it is important to bring value to your counterpart through capacity building, Dr. Vazquez-Prokopec noted that a true partnership is not founded on an attitude that your home institution has all the answers. Effective partnerships acknowledge that both parties have essential value. Dr. Lesser encouraged researchers to think not only about how they can build capacity abroad, but also about how a collaboration can build their own intellectual capacity and understanding in a new area. He emphasized that researchers should never feel like they are blocked from working in a place or with a collaborator because work in or with a particular country isn't their specialty - threads of value can be woven among specialists across the academic spectrum.