Life as Colleagues: The Collaboration after Residency

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The activities described so far took place during my residency in Jill’s lab, which came to a close in the spring of 2015, once I left Pittsburgh. In the years that followed my departure, we have sustained a number of collaborative activities. I still regularly consult Jill about research, asking clarification questions about a new piece of science I’m studying or asking her opinion on an article or experiment. Jill and one of her graduate students participated in an interdisciplinary workshop I hosted in 2016. And Jill and I, along with that same graduate student, co-authored a short piece about conceptual analysis in nanoscience for a scientific audience (Bürsten et al. 2016). We also developed an interview-style article for a collection of essays based on the 2016 workshop. We no longer share our weekly research progress at lab meetings, but I keep up with Jill’s research more closely than with many of my philosophical colleagues, because it continues to be one of the biggest influences on my own research. We both expect to continue working together throughout our careers, and our collaboration has evolved from its genesis in Jill’s classroom into a lasting colleagueship and friendship.

One of the challenges I face in this collaboration, and in a number of my other collaborations, is being in the uncomfortable position of being the one who benefits more from our work, and thus being the one who depends more on the continuation of the collaboration. There are certainly benefits for Jill of collaborating with me: above and beyond the conceptual insights that initially led her to work with me, having a philosopher in the lab boosted her interdisciplinary credentials and, as individuals, we are both useful partners for each other in talking through research and professional problems. However, if she had not worked with me, little would have changed about the direction of Jill’s research, whereas my work with Jill has impacted nearly every step in my research career since I took up residency in her lab.

After leaving Pittsburgh, I sought collaborative residencies in other chemistry labs with little success. This disappointment could be due to a change in career stage: as a pre-tenure faculty member I don’t have the time to go to weekly lab meetings, because their timing often conflicts with departmental duties. I’m also simply not done with the research that has come out of my collaboration with Jill’s lab, so I feel less pressure to find a new residency. Additionally, the times I have met with chemists and other scientists since leaving Jill’s lab have shown me just how rare it is to find someone as curious about conceptual questions as she is.

However, I have discovered and created other modes of collaboration in my current position. In addition to those discussed above, I have taken up a numberof collaborations through pedagogical channels: I have served as an external committee member for Ph.D. students in biolog)' and chemistry, developed an interdisciplinary course with members of the biology' department at the University of Kentucky, and written about assignment design with a colleague in learning science. As a faculty' member, too, I have more opportunities to interact with other departments around the university than I did as a graduate student, and my' experiences collaborating with Jill have significantly improved my ability to communicate with my colleagues across campus.

As is the case with many' successful interdisciplinary' collaborations, the overall success of my collaboration with the Millstone lab was likely' largely due to a host of particularities of personality, subject, and circumstance: the intellectual friendship between Jill and me; the interdisciplinarity and youth of nanoscience; the sheer timing of meeting a collaborator in graduate school, when my academic and personal lives allowed the time to go to extra meetings every week; and the good fortune of being in a graduate program that supported the collaboration. That said, I think there are some things that I, and that we, did well that generalize across collaborations between philosophers and scientists, and I have aimed to highlight these throughout this chapter.


Many thanks to Melinda Fagan for extremely' helpful comments on a draft of this chapter, to Bob Batterman for encouraging the collaboration that led to this piece, to Evelyn Brister and Robert Frodeman for conscientious editorial advice, and to Jill Millstone for everything else that follows. The philosophical research described in this chapter was supported in part by the National Science Foundation under grant &DGE-1247842. And, as always, thanks to the members of STARS.


  • 1 Dr. Millstone runs her lab on a first-name basis, and this chapter strives to convey the experience of working with her lab, so I will call her “Jill” throughout this piece.
  • 2 One of the editors of this volume informed me this impulse makes me something of a geek, and I couldn’t agree more. Having a keen and unflappable interest in chemistry has given me the patience and motivation I needed to learn the science in this collaboration.


Bursten, J.R., M.J. Hartmann, and J.E. Millstone. 2016. “Conceptual Analysis for Nanoscience.” Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters 7(10): 1917-1918.

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