In a competitive world, the best way to get ahead is by sharing, Martin Raff told a group of postdocs last month. Raff, an emeritus biology professor at University College London, was giving career advice to some 100 postdocs from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) during their first ever ‘retreat’ from the bench and their principal investigators (see page 244).

That advice was passed on from lessons Raff learned during his own postdoc days at Britain's National Institute for Medical Research. Raff trained as a physician and neurologist and began his research career in immunology in Avrion Mitchison's lab. Mitchison passed a project to Raff that would soon make the younger scientist's international reputation: the hunt for a T-cell marker. Raff, using an antiserum provided by Mitchison, hit the jackpot. And when it was time to publish the results, Mitchison refused to put his own name on the paper. Instead, he advanced the name of his protégé, despite having guided the work and provided the original impetus.

Following Mitchison's advice, Raff made the antiserum freely available. That accomplished two things. Directly, it helped confirm that Raff had found what he thought he had. Indirectly, it advanced Raff's scientific reputation much faster than if he had simply published one paper and refused to share the reagent.

Raff told the EMBL postdocs that they should consider sharing too — the fastest way to test your findings is through the recruitment of other scientists who perhaps aren't as willing to believe them as yourself, Raff said. If your findings emerge from this crucible intact, they are probably correct. And sharing ideas, techniques and reagents with the larger community is a better way to advance the scientific process and foster useful collaborations than hoarding them in a cupboard. Lock them up, and you may end up wondering why no one has come looking for you.