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How to run a Collaborative Incubator

Find out how to run a collaborative workshop that brings participants together to explore new and interesting research challenges.

What is a Collaborative Incubator?

A collaborative incubator is an academic workshop that is focussed on enabling and encouraging people to do new research together. The format of an incubator is designed to actively encourage people to learn and develop new research with people they might never have spoken to otherwise.  

Incubators start with speakers presenting open problems, questions or challenges to participants, with some breakout sessions of group work in between to clarify and brainstorm initial ideas. This is followed by substantial time, perhaps half the workshop or more, where participants work in groups to try to make progress on the problems - or at least come up with ideas that might help to make progress.  

The key features are:

  • Three to five days and roughly 30 to 50 participants.
  • Relatively few speakers (usually five to eight) who are well briefed. Speakers are there to stimulate discussion around open problems and potential projects, rather than to present existing work.
  • As diverse a cast as possible: this includes characteristics such as gender and ethnicity but also career stage, with postgraduate students, postdocs, academic staff and industry representatives if appropriate. 
  • Open problems to level the playing field so that students and more senior academic staff work together to tackle the questions. 

More detailed, evidence-based guidance on how to run an incubator is available via a link at the bottom of this page. This includes a sample timetable and a step-by-step organisation planner.

Academic workshops based around collaborative research

Staff and students explain what happens at a collaborative incubator.

Benefits of Running an Incubator

Incubators provide an inclusive and accessible environment for senior academics to work alongside postgraduate students and other early-career academics to frame or solve exciting new academic research problems.

Two PhD students collaborating

The inclusive environment has multiple benefits: early career researchers are more involved, while senior academics see how diverse teams can be beneficial for their research. And it leads to concrete outputs: solved problems, papers, research collaborations, grant applications, PhD projects.

Incubators are a great way to foster collaboration and break down barriers and hierarchies and this happens by getting as many people actively involved in the discussion as possible.  It is difficult to do that when one expert is at the front talking to everyone else, like at a more traditional conference.

Detailed guidance document

This project was part of the EPSRC Inclusion Matters Programme, funded by EPSRC, which aims to promote equality, diversity and inclusion within the engineering and physical sciences.

A detailed guidance document is available for download below. It describes in detail how to organise a Collaborative Incubator, and is based on evidence gathered from the Reimagining Recruitment project run by researchers at the University. While not everyone will want to, or be able to, deliver the exact format outlined here, these are good general principles in delivering inclusive, open, collaborative events.

Find out more details on how to run a successful collaborative incubator:

Read our Guidance

Contact us

If you have any questions about the guidance or want to find out more about our research, please contact us via email.