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"Only through collaboration can research reach new heights"

In March 2023, Health and AUH presented a joint research strategy that includes an increased focus on national and international collaboration. In this article, Deputy Head of Department for Research Ellen Margrethe Hauge and Clinical Professor and Chair Henning Grønbæk discuss how they work with this particular focus area and what they think about it.

Deputy Head of Department Ellen Margrethe Hauge and Clinical Professor and Chair Henning Grønbæk discuss how to expand national and international networks and how to strengthen research through increased collaboration across subjects and specialities.
Deputy Head of Department Ellen Margrethe Hauge and Clinical Professor and Chair Henning Grønbæk discuss how to expand national and international networks and how to strengthen research through increased collaboration across subjects and specialities. Photo: AUH/AU Photo

Four tracks set the direction for the joint research strategy

The joint research strategy that covers all researchers at Health and AUH has four tracks:

  1. Together we create and lead national and international research projects
  2. Together we conduct research with and for all patients
  3. Together we expand an excellent research environment across professions and specialities
  4. Together we create the best possibilities for development for all talented researchers

Each track will result in concrete actions to be implemented by the end of 2027.

You can also read the article "Health and AUH to take health research to the highest level" (in Danish only) about the joint research strategy, or visit AUH’s webpage about the joint research strategy.

According to Deputy Head of Department Ellen Margrethe Hauge from the Department of Clinical Medicine, Clinical Professor and Chair Henning Grønbæk and his colleagues at AUH's Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology are particularly good at collaborating with colleagues both in Denmark and abroad. We have asked both of them to discuss building and maintaining academic networks, and to discuss how networks and collaborations can impact research.

"Collaboration is vital if we’re serious about developing research at Health and AUH. That’s what it really comes down to," says Henning Grønbæk.

"This also applies, perhaps especially, to expanding collaboration between the two organisations. For example, it’d make a big difference if we clinicians increased our collaboration with colleagues at the other departments at Health. This would really boost research in the future," he says, adding that the department has been working strategically with research and research management, and thereby also collaboration for as long as he can remember.

"But the work has become more formalised over the past ten years, and now includes regular research meetings and seminars where we address different themes, such as new scientific methods, external funding, internationalisation or collaboration. Furthermore, all our medical specialists are also clinical associate professors, and they are expected to participate in research and supervision and contribute at least two authorships a year. And impressively, they meet these expectations," says Henning Grønbæk.

A period abroad is an investment in future opportunities for collaboration

Henning Grønbæk also explains how clear career paths and a study abroad period are crucial to the department's success in establishing interdisciplinary collaborations at both the national and international level.

"Many of our early career researchers are currently on a study abroad period or have been on one. The change of environment that comes with going abroad is important for PhD students. It really matures them, both professionally and personally, and they make important international contacts. So, we work hard on helping as many as we can to spend a period abroad. And this includes postdocs as well. We draw on the networks and relationships of established researchers, which is the only reason why so many can go abroad," says Henning Grønbæk.

Ellen Margrethe Hauge nods in agreement.

"The research environments are at very different stages in this area, so we need to draw on the strongest ones and use them to inspire others. The strongest environments will make sure their researchers go abroad. So, we need to look at how we can get environments that need a bit of inspiration up and running," she says and elaborates:

"Some research environments don't have any PhD students on study abroad periods, nor do they have international supervisors affiliated with their PhDs. This is where I hope that Henning Grønbæk's approach and experience can inspire others, because we know that early internationalisation can impact an entire research career. For some, working internationally is a matter of course, but for others, it can be a difficult first step to take."

According to Ellen Margrethe Hauge, who is in close contact with the research environments through regular research dialogue meetings, it is important that young researchers start by establishing themselves through internal collaboration, and preferably across the two organisations and across clinical and basic research. Once that is in place, then they should travel abroad.

"As I see it, it's very much about building strength within our own research community, and only then can we begin establishing external relations. It has to be done in that order. But once you have achieved a certain level of influence and have become an attractive research partner, that’s when you’re in a really strong position," she says.

The Honorary Skou programme increases opportunities to work internationally

Henning Grønbæk also mentions the possibility of affiliating Honorary Skou Professors with departments as an example of how researchers more easily can expand or strengthen collaboration with foreign researchers from recognised research institutions.

“We really love the Honorary Skou programme. It’s a great way of attracting international hot shots, and thanks to the programme, we now have four well-renowned international colleagues affiliated with the department. The scheme ties us more closely to our international colleagues than a traditional and more informal collaboration. It's a huge gift to a research group," he says, before mentioning a small downside:

"The only small drawback of the Honorary Skou programme is that the appropriation granted by the faculty for the appointment does not cover actual expenses. I’d therefore like to see differentiated funding for the appointments rather than allocating the same symbolic sum to everyone. It's significantly more expensive to fly people in from Sydney than from London," he says.

Under the current scheme, Henning Grønbæk is obliged to ask the researchers who would like to champion Honorary Skou Professors to find additional funding themselves. He fears that this deters some people. People who would otherwise like to share their network to the benefit of the department and faculty.

Collaboration is the way forward

Henning Grønbæk shares a little anecdote about collaboration that he always has in the back of his mind before Ellen Margrethe Hauge rounds off the conversation.

"When I visited our Honorary Skou Professor Jacob George in Sydney, we talked about how to arrange things in relation to publications, i.e. who would be first and last author, etcetera. ‘I believe in collaborations', said Jacob, without hesitating. And he’s a heavyweight. Collaboration is the way forward if we want to boost research."

"It’s important to me that the joint research strategy makes the weakest stronger and the strong even stronger, regardless of whether we’re talking about collaboration, diversity or one of the other themes. The strategy should tie AUH and Health closer together in terms of research, and implementation of the strategy is already well underway," says Ellen Margrethe Hauge.

"The current work in the implementation groups shows that the strategy won't just be another document you never look at again. The various elements of the strategy are being worked on in a dedicated and specific manner to ensure they become a visible part of our everyday lives. The research strategy is an ambitious joint project that I believe will make difference,” she says.

The steering committee behind the joint research strategy expects to send an information package with inspiration on how to work locally with the strategy to all AUH departments and research groups at Health in January 2024.

Contact

Deputy Head of Department for Research Ellen Margrethe Hauge
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine
Mobile: + 45 24 78 60 25
Email:ellen.hauge@clin.au.dk

Clinical Professor and Chair Henning Grønbæk
Aarhus University, Department of Clinical Medicine and
Aarhus University Hospital, Department of Hepatology and Gastroenterology
Mobile: +45 21 67 92 81
Email: henning.gronbaek@clin.au.dk

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