I have a collaboration with a relatively well-known midcareer faculty (midcareer meaning here 10-20 years since getting first TT job); I am tenured but still in what can be considered early career (0-10 years since starting first TT). We shall call My Collaborator MC, for obvious reasons (I know, it's totally uninspired; I was toying with Collaborator in Question, CiQ for short, but I think the pun may be in poor taste). The collaboration is relatively recent (the last 2+ years), and we have complementary, non-overlapping expertise. We have advised one student jointly, and developed a New Technique, where the New Technique should be thought of as a set of necessary physical insights, processes, and new developed tools. In particular, an important part of New Technique is Cool New Tool. Both our expertises were instrumental in the development of New Technique/Cool New Tool.*
This all sounds like a match made in heaven, right? Well, the problem is what next.
During the course of the collaboration, I have found it very hard to work with MC, as MC is very busy and important, and has different priorities in career right now. I am very focused on research and publishing (I guess I never relaxed after tenure track) and my work style is such that I am in my projects up to my elbows, I interact with my group members quite frequently and on the level of technical details. So the collaboration has been very frustrating for me (maybe for MC too, but he/she doesn't let on): I have been facing long turnaround times to send something to print because of MC's busy schedule, which is made more difficult by the fact that MC really insists on having everything written and done 'just so'. In the end, I have had to simply accept MC's writing style and tempo of work in order to get things out, but have found the whole process extremely stifling. Also, MC and I have completely different views on how students should be advised, when papers are ready to be presented at conferences, how frequently a student gets to travel to present the work... Overall, I have not been happy with the collaboration (although it has been productive) and don't foresee it continuing into the future, past the graduation of the joint student and the completion of the present grant.
So the question is -- what next? I have told MC that he/she can do whatever he/she wants with New Technique/Cool New Tool, it's OK by me if MC writes proposals and papers beyond our current project without me and it's OK to use the full New Technique and employ the Cool New Tool. However, in our conversations it became clear that MC expects to be part of future proposals of mine where New Technique and/or Cool New Tool is used. This irks me, because I have a number of ideas for proposals that I can write on my own and that somewhat utilize New Technique in a peripheral way; I do not want to have to run every idea of mine by MC. I would be happy to have MC as a collaborator if the collaboration hadn't been quite so uncomfortable; I simply want to sever the ties, but I think I have the right to enjoy some benefits of New Technique and to use the Cool New Tool. In all fairness, MC did indicate that he/she wants me on his/her future grants, but I just want out.
So when you are divorcing your collaborator, how do you divide the custody of your joint work, i.e., your intellectual offspring?
Here are some thinking points:
- Do you think MC has the right to expect to be a co-PI or consultant on my grants just because we developed New Technique? And if so, for how long is this acceptable? Is there a point in time (after a certain number of months or years, or a certain number of papers) where I can guilt-freely just stop thinking about MC?
- Do I have, at all, the right to use New Technique or utilize Cool New Tool without participation of MC? Is there a degree to which I have this right, and how do you measure it? We did develop New Technique and build Cool New Tool together and I told MC he/she can use all for whatever he/she wants later on (I expect no type of lingering commitment because of my participation in the original project, and was expecting the same on MC's side, but instead I have this request for continued engagement, which I want to avoid). I could continue to develop New Technique/Cool New Tool for the purposes of the projects I envision (within my area of expertise), and I would not be in direct competition with MC.
- A clean way would be for me to continue on my own and never use New Technique or employ Cool New Tool, but is that fair to me? I would say in terms of expertise we contributed 50-50, but timewise I probably put in more as I was more involved in the technical details, especially regading the actual development of Cool New Tool. This is the biggest issue here; it took 2 years to develop Cool New Tool in particular and I suppose I could do it all over again on my own, but it feels like such a waste of time; I feel I should not have to do it all over again from scratch and should be able to enjoy the fruits of my work.
- Finally, would your answers differ in the cases of MC being a man/woman?
MC is a nice and collegial person and I'd like to do this in a non-confrontational way if possible. MC is also known to hold his/her cards close, so I don't expect him/her to consult me on his/her plans. I have received suggestions to just go about my business with proposals as though I have full custody of New Technique/Cool New Tool and claim naiveté if MC objects; that may be sage advice, but strikes me as perhaps unnecessarily sneaky. Hence this post!
N.B. Prodigal academic wrote a nice related new post which I encourage you to check out. I also wrote about collaborations a bit earlier, and will continue to do so periodically, as I find them to be a fascinating mix of science, psychology, and politics.
* After Melissa's comment, I included explicit references to Cool New Tool, to make it clear that there is something tangible at stake that I would like to be able to use and that would take a long time to build again from scratch.