Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Science teams make the news!

I think that many professors would say that their research informs their classrooms - that they bring their research methods and results into the classroom to help their students learn. However, I'm not sure how many professors think that there is a mutualistic relationship between their research labs and teaching classrooms. I do, and my new paper published this week is a great example of this relationship --
Creating and maintaining high-performing collaborative research teams: the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills by Kendra S Cheruvelil, Patricia A Soranno, Kathleen C Weathers, Paul C Hanson, Simon J Goring, Christopher T Filstrup, Emily K Read (http://www.esajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1890/130001). Check out MSU's press release about my paper here: http://msutoday.msu.edu/news/2014/research-its-more-than-just-the-science/, which has also been picked up by Science Daily: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140204123732.htm and Phys.org: http://phys.org/news/2014-02-science.html.
JUNE UPDATE: the Archbold Biological Station included CSI Limnology and highlighted my teamwork paper in their newsletter:
Very fun!

You might be asking how this mutualistic relationship works...well, there are three parts to the story:

First, over a decade ago, I began working with three amazing ecologists: Drs. Patricia Soranno, Mary Tate Bremigan, and Katherine Webster. We got a grant from the US EPA to fund some of our Landscape Limnology research (www.fw.msu.edu/~llrg) and were able to do a LOT of great science with a relatively small number of tax-payer dollars. We have since expanded our research team in multiple directions (e.g., CSI Limnology and Lakes as Socio-Ecological Systems), and have continued to work really well together. I don't take these great research teams for granted because to work productively together is not a given in science. In fact, high-performing science teams take a lot of work to create and maintain! But,  I am committed to these teams that keep me passionate about science.
The Landscape Limnology Research Group (L to R):
Patricia Soranno, Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, Katherine Webster, Mary Tate Bremigan
Second, I began teaching introductory organismal biology in MSU's Lyman Briggs College (www.lbc.msu.edu). Right away, I noticed that my students struggled to work effectively in their lab teams and that those struggles negatively affected their science learning and their attitudes about biology. I began attending teaching seminars and reading the education literature about how to facilitate effective student teams. In fact, when I was an MSU Lilly Teaching Fellow (http://www.fod.msu.edu/opportunities/lilly-teaching-fellows-program), I designed a Scholarship of Teaching and Learning project that asked: How do diverse base groups impact student learning and attitudes in introductory biology? Over the past eight years, I have learned a lot about how to help students working in teams do so in better, more satisfying, and more scientifically productive ways.

Third, I began working with some of my LBC colleagues to increase awareness and appreciation of diversity in its many forms. With Drs. Georgina Montgomery, Cheryl Murphy, and Cori Fata-Hartley, I formed a new standing committee, LBC Inc, which has the goal of promoting and fostering an inclusive environment and equal opportunities for all LBC students, faculty, and staff through educationresearch, and service (http://lymanbriggs.msu.edu/faculty/standing.cfm); with Drs. Georgina Montgomery, Cori Fata-Hartley, and Aaron McCright, I developed a senior capstone course that used service learning and student research to explore issues of diversity in science; and with Dr. Cori Fata-Hartley, I developed and implemented a seminars and workshops about the importance of diversity for science teaching and learning (e.g., Creating an Inclusive Classroom). I found all of these experiences extremely rewarding, and at the same time was continuously reminded of how challenging it is to think and talk about "diversity", no matter the context.

So, how did these three different aspects of my job come together to create this Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment paper about science teams? Over the course of the last 10+ years, I have been experiencing and observing a huge number of teams at work - in the classroom, in my lab, and beyond. The teamwork skills I learned in order to help my students and the literature I read about the importance of diversity for teaching and learning began informing my research teams. I began to lead my research teams through teamwork exercises about negotiating conflict and time management. I designed an online survey for CSI Limnology to assess team functioning. I started raising other scientists' awareness about the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills for science teams. And then, word got out -- I began getting emails from colleagues around the world asking me for my teamwork materials so that their research teams could increase their level of productivity as well. Thus, this paper was born!

I wrote this paper with some amazing co-authors: Patricia Soranno, Kathleen Weathers, Paul Hanson, Simon Goring, Chris Filstrup, and Emily Read. We wrote the paper to provide scientists with a strong rationale for why they need to very carefully create diverse research teams, teach scientists teamwork and leadership skills, and value such training and its outputs. In addition, our paper provides many concrete examples of how to create and maintain high-performing collaborative research teams (check out the online supplemental documents: http://www.esajournals.org/doi/suppl/10.1890/130001/suppl_file/i1540-9295-12-1-31.s01.pdf). We wrote the paper based on our own experiences working in teams (not all of which have been high-performing) as well as using research published mainly in the fields of education and business. Finally, our paper was informed by the really cool new discipline called the science of team science (http://sites.nationalacademies.org/DBASSE/BBCSS/CurrentProjects/DBASSE_080231). We hope that our paper is helpful for science teams that want to improve, scientists in training who want to learn teamwork and leadership skills, and administrators who are thinking about how to evaluate and reward scientists who work in teams. The end result of high-performing science teams is better science being conducted, which is a win for everyone!

This special issue  (http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/12/1) was partly the result of a two-day meeting held during February of 2012 in Boulder, CO. Researchers funded through the NSF-MacroSysytems Biology Program (http://www.nsf.gov/funding/pgm_summ.jsp?pims_id=503425), including me, got together to share ideas and tools and talked a lot about what it is that makes macrosystems ecology tick, including effective interdisciplinary teams. You can check out the NSF's press releases here: http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=130218&org=NSF&from=news and http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_images.jsp?cntn_id=130218&org=NSF.

A special shout out to my long-time LLRG, my LBC students and teaching assistants, and to Cori Fata-Hartley!

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