By Lucy Deckard
Presenters: This session was presented by Margaret Hilton (National Research Council), James Gentile (Hope College) and Kara Hall (National Cancer Institute and member of National Research Council ) Margaret Hilton gave an overview: This session discussed a series of reports related to Innovations in Scientific Research (specifically, interdisciplinary and team science), the latest of which came out in late April, 2015.
- “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research” (2005)
- “Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering and Beyond” National Research Council (2014)
- “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science” National Research Council (2015)
The first report defined “interdisciplinary” vs. “transdisciplinary” (transcends disciplinary boundaries). In theory, an individual can conduct these kinds of research by him/herself, but in reality that rarely happens. This is where you get to the realm of Team Science – science conducted interdependently by more than one person.
These reports came up with some common recommendations for changes needed to promote and accommodate these new ways of doing scientific research:
- Revise promotion and tenure policies
- Expand funding mechanisms and review criteria
- Conduct research/evaluation to understand and guide improved interdisciplinarity and convergence in science
James Gentile spoke about ”convergence”:
Scientific research is becoming more problem-centered. Mother Nature is winning, and she has no departmental structural constraints. In order to solve complex questions in science we need true innovation and interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition, tools in science are exploding, bringing disciplines together.
The grand challenges that we want to converge about include:
- Green energy
- Chemistry and physics of living systems
- Synthetic capacity of live
- -omics to uncover new approaches to disease
- Others were also listed.
The Research Corp, Howard Hughes Medical Institute and others: Science Coalition coming together and made a context map Addressing these problems means we have to go through a web that includes law, policy, economics, as well as virology .
So in the future we will have to learn how to converge. For example, brain mapping requires a lot of different types of expertise. In interdisciplinary research, it’s usually altruistic. A researcher takes a sample to a colleague in chemistry and asks if she’ll run it on her machine. She does this as a favor. In contrast, when we converge, I get my question answered but that answer presents a new question for the colleague in chemistry. In this case, everyone is growing. They coined a new term: “Scialog,” from science and dialog.
The Research Corporation for Science Advancement brought together researchers to consider a national priority: energy from photosynthesis (in essence, can we build an artificial tree based on nanotechnology). They invited researchers to form teams, but before they pitched the science, the Research Corporation just wanted to hear the justification for the team composition. They ended up funding a group that created bio-inspired silicon photovoltaics. Convergence also works in education. He gave the example of having students design robotic “cockroaches”. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JysIA-4fcA4 and NRC, 2014.
Kara Hall talked in more detail about the recently released report, “Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science”:
The committee looked at factors that impacted effectiveness of science teams:
- Individual factors
- Factors at team/center/institute level (organizational factors)
- Management approaches and leadership styles
- How tenure and promotion are affected
The team included people with a broad range of backgrounds, including psychologists, biologists, social scientists, etc. They used several measures to evaluate effectiveness, including which research is cited more and which yielded more patents. They found that research done in teams is cited more, yields more patents, and demonstrates high levels of innovation.
They defined the following terms:
Team science – collaborative, interdependent research conducted by more than one individual
Science team – 2 – 10 individuals
Larger group – more than 10 (teams of teams)
Team effectiveness – a team’s capacity to perform
Key features that cause more challenges for team science are large membership diversity, the need to effect deep knowledge integration, (sometimes) large size, goal misalignment, permeable boundaries for teams (meaning members may move in and out as the research evolves), geographic dispersion, and high task interdependence. The concluded that there is already a strong body of research on team processes as they relate to effectiveness, but most of that research was done on teams such as business teams (not science research teams), so we need to bring that literature into the context of science.
They identified three main areas where interventions could enhance effectiveness: team composition, team professional development, and team leadership. Kara summarized several recommendations based on current research in each of these areas.
Composing your team: Consider using task analytic methods to identify needed knowledge, skills and attitudes. These methods can be used to match task-related diversity among team or group members. Also, consider moving outside your usual network – for example by leveraging networking tools.
Team Professional Development: Team professional development models prevalent in business could be applied to science. The committee recommended that we look at these models to see what’s out there and develop them so that they are relevant to science teams. When dealing with diverse teams and trying develop shared knowledge, it’s very important to devote time to developing a shared vocabulary. This may seem like it takes a lot of time, but in the end it will be worth it.
Leadership: The committee noted that there is already fifty years of research on teams and organizational leadership, so we should take advantage of this robust foundation and adapt it for leaders of science teams and larger groups.
The team also recommended that, in order to address the challenges of geographic dispersion, we conduct research on virtual collaboration and geographically dispersed science teams. They also recommended that dispersed teams consider task assignments within semi-independent units at each location to reduce the burden of constant electronic communication.
The team also concluded that while universities have launched new efforts to promote interdisciplinary team science (e.g., getting rid of departments), the impact of these initiatives on the amount and quality of team science has not be systematically evaluated. It may not be that the main hurdles are not actually disciplinary structures but may instead be factors such as promotion and tenure (P/T) criteria.
This points out the importance of aligning reward structures with encouraging team science. Many university P/T review policies are uncreative and don’t give credit for team-based research. One model might be big physics, where research has long been done in very large teams. They allow researchers to get credit for pre-publications (e.g., software, databases, etc.), not just first-authored publications.
Funding agencies also need to play a role in encouraging a culture change in the scientific community. The report recommends that funders encourage development and implementation of new collaborative models (e.g., research networks, consortia). They also need to support the development of resources that support team science (e.g., info repositories, training modules, ensuring data is available for mining). We also need more targeted research about team science, but few funding programs support this research.
She also recommended that folks attend the SciTS (science of team science) 2015 conference in June 2 -5, 2015 in Bethesda, MD.
Questions and Answers:
Question: Are more diverse teams more difficult to manage?
- Faculty are a non-pack-oriented group – leadership and administrative oversight can be difficult
- Teams should start out small – then they can grow as they demonstrate success
- In the team science report there was lots of discussion around diversity – we will see evolving culture shifts – more emphasis in education. A new Chief of Science Workforce Diversity at NIH was just named. As get used to more diversity, it will get easier.
- There will be a meeting targeting provosts and deans by the National Academy highlighted their role in addressing some of these team science issues (e.g., authorship is an example if diff disciplines have different authorship criteria)
Question: Are there recommended strategies for forming teams?
- When you have a team that has worked together and then bring in some new people, that often works best. If you’ve been working together too long, you can lose your innovative edge. Sometimes concatenating two teams also works.
- When there’s too much competition among teams, it degrades the teams’ ability to work with one another, which may be needed in the future. One way to address this is to develop large networks and initiatives that include multiple centers to foster collaboration.
- NIH is offering the opportunity to bring together scientists to think about a problem space – not a commitment. That way, teams can form and when there is an application, it’s more sophisticated
- Another strategy is to form a team around teaching – if they can work together around teaching, a lot of research can come out of that, and it’s a way for the members to get used to working with one another (for example, developing innovative interdisciplinary non-major courses)
Question: Can core facilities help bring teams together?
- You have to find a way to stimulate conversation. Some core facilities work better than others to stimulate interdisciplinary collaborations. The core needs to understand that this is one of their roles.
- Sometimes the core is competing with the people they are supposed to be supporting – they need to get rewarded for bringing people together.
The presenters thanked their sponsors: NSF and Elsevier