This year, Duke University and the Duke CTSI, along with the International Network for the Science of Team Science (INSciTS), hosted the 11th Annual International Science of Team Science (SciTS) Conference. The conference, which took place entirely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, exists to share and advance the evidence base for effective team collaboration, transdisciplinary science, and working across boundaries (disciplinary, sectoral, geographical, e.g.) to solve complex problems.
Building off over a decade of establishing the SciTS field, the 2020 conference focused on highlighting and pursuing excellence in studying, doing, and teaching team science. Daily virtual interactive workshops, panel discussions and Q&A sessions hosted by leading experts in the field focused on the basics of team science, critical collaboration skills, scientometrics and data analysis, and more. The conference also featured two novel interaction modalities, created in the transition to the virtual platform, to recreate important aspects of in-person gatherings, namely opportunities for informal networking, identification of collaborators and feedback on presented work.
Keynote: The Collaborative Era of Science
This year’s keynote address was delivered by Dr. Caroline Wagner, Associate Professor and Milton & Roslyn Wolf Chair in International Affairs at The Ohio State University and author of The Collaborative Era in Science: Governing the Network. Dr. Wagner spoke about the contribution of teams to what she dubs, “the collaborative era of science.”
“Deep knowledge is needed in each field in a team or a group in order to find complementary ways of knowing,” she said. “The broader the frontier, the more you need teams. The greater the need for creativity and recombination, the more you need diverse teams.”
Convergence and Team Science
One of the plenary panels focused on the meaning and importance of convergence science in the context of team science. The panel included experts from Duke, the University of Birmingham, and the University of Virginia.
When it comes to convergence in team science, the panelists discussed the difficulties of getting interdisciplinary research off the ground, particularly at an academic institution. Dr. Missy Cummings, Professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, recounted her challenge transitioning from working as one of the Navy’s first female fighter pilots to a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Dr. Cummings said that when she began her academic career, “interdisciplinary research was definitely not rewarded. So I had to play the game to get tenure and get to the point that I was doing more interdisciplinary work.”
Now, she believes that inter- and trans-disciplinary teamwork is essential to scientific research. “There is no problem you can present to me anymore that does not require people from more than one domain.”
When actually getting to work in an interdisciplinary team, the panel also discussed the challenge of getting researchers to look at the work and contributions of team members with expertise outside of their own concentration.
“It is difficult to talk about other people’s research, particularly when it’s out of your comfort zone,” said Iseult Lynch, Professor in the School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Science at the University of Birmingham. “But for team science and for convergence, I think that humility and that ability to learn how to present other people’s work with as much passion as you do your own are very critical components.”
Excellence in SciTS Education
The conference’s final plenary panel explored multiple models for excellence in team science education across a range of career stages, including the undergraduate, graduate, and early career researcher levels. Panelists from Duke, the University of Waterloo, and the University of Florida shared their experiences working with students and trainees at these different levels.
Dr. Claudia Gunsch, the Theodore Kennedy Associate Professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the Pratt School of Engineering, spoke about the importance of showing her graduate students how to work in a team setting before asking them to work together.
“For our engineering students, there’s been so much of a focus on the technical skills, and there hasn’t been much of an emphasis pushed really on learning those types of collaborative skills,” Dr. Gunsch said. “We put you in the team and we expect you to know how to function in that team without really teaching you. I am seeing an evolution; I do think a lot of universities are adapting their curricula to start incorporating more of this.”
The panelists noted that some students, particularly students from professional backgrounds in business or law, have more of a background in team-based approaches through their programs. The challenge, then, is to determine how to adapt the curriculum to be meaningful to students coming in with different skillsets.
“We need to not just provide them with a safe space to collaborate with one another and take risks, but also show them how to create those spaces and cultivate psychological safety for others,” said Dr. Kathryn Plaisance, Associate Professor in the Department of Knowledge Integration at the University of Waterloo.
Panelist and Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke Dr. Edward J. Balleisen oversees and provides strategic guidance for Bass Connections, a program that brings together faculty, postdocs, graduate students, undergraduates and external partners to tackle complex societal challenges in interdisciplinary research teams. Reflecting on the impact of these experiential, team-based learning programs, he and students of the program have been able to see the value of team science beyond the academy.
“These team-based experiences end up being what employers want to ask about in interviews,” Dr. Balleisen said. “It is getting people fellowships, and it is getting people internships, and it is getting people jobs. It is in many ways launching a growing number of our students on their career trajectory.”
To learn more about the Science of Team Science, visit www.inscits.org.