I think it’s stronger when you have an interdisciplinary approach. We have a fairly active vestibular balance lab. There are four investigators that collaborate on research experiments. One physical therapist and three PhD audiologists.
I guess what I’ve become really aware of is the contribution that other fields can bring to the patient, to care for the patient, and the research question. If we are just approaching it from the way an audiologist might approach it, the patient is not as well served, and I think the research question is a little narrower than it would be than if you had other fields—like physical therapy—working with you. I mean, you could also add psychology, otolaryngology, neurology, other fields as well.
What are some of your “lessons learned” from collaboration?
I think the one thing that we try to do in our lab is to kind of source out some of the components of our work. If you need somebody to develop a database, for example, we’re not going to spend a lot of time ourselves developing that database. But we get somebody with expertise in that area. So we’ve tried to work more efficiently — that’s helped us be a little bit more efficient than if we were doing all of those components ourselves. I think we’ve gotten smarter about that.
Several years ago — or even more recently than that — we’ve been working with an aerospace engineer at East Tennessee State University to help us with some data analysis and some instrumentation. Initially we’d spent a lot of time ourselves in the lab trying to fix that and figure out the answers to that. When we started collaborating with other people that had this expertise, I think we became more efficient — that made a lot more sense — and I think we’ve tried to use that model. Rather than trying to figure out that answer ourselves, we go look for collaborators. That just adds strength to your project. You’re thinking about it in different ways, you’re approaching the problem in a way that you probably wouldn’t have otherwise.
That’s probably one of the more important lessons that I learned out of error from doing it the wrong way myself for too long.