Virginia Sea Grant hosts workshop roadmapping team science training

“The challenges we face with the changing coastal climate are really complex, and individual disciplines don’t have the answers,” says Troy Hartley, director of Virginia Sea Grant. “We need to find solutions that assimilate multiple disciplines, across natural and social science and other disciplinary boundaries; innovative, integrative solutions that wouldn’t exist if we didn’t come together.”

Team science is not new. Interest in collaborative, transdisciplinary research has been growing since the 1990s. Challenges with group dynamics, however, often keep team science projects from achieving their integrative aspirations. If team science has the answers to problems associated with sea level rise and recurrent flooding, the upcoming generation of scientists must learn how to overcome these interpersonal obstacles.

Hoping to help students with this challenge, Hartley and Linda Schaffner, Virginia Institute of Marine Science (VIMS) professor and associate dean of academic studies, hosted a workshop on December 14, 2016 at the William & Mary School of Business Innovation & Design Studio. The workshop, “Collaborative Team Science & Professional Development: Training Design Workshop,” provided 14 participants a chance to learn about team science, and figure out how to equip students with the skills they need to collaborate.

“I think that this workshop is a really great endeavor on behalf of Virginia Sea Grant and VIMS to develop these opportunities for the next generation of scientists, who will be addressing the impacts of climate change,” says Emily Rivest, a workshop participant and assistant professor at VIMS. Rivest herself uses an interdisciplinary approach to study how stressors of global change affect marine invertebrates.

For the first half of the workshop, speakers presented the latest science of team science. Deana Pennington, an associate professor in the Department of Geological Sciences at the University of Texas El Paso who studies interdisciplinary teamwork, outlined challenges to team science, as well as potential resolutions.

Pennington thinks that one way to address interpersonal challenges is by sharing knowledge from the outset.

“There’s really very little overlapping knowledge to start with. I have to learn enough about your research to be able to link it to mine,” she said. She thinks co-creating visual models, like diagrams, can help team members overcome their different points of view, and create new, shared points of view.

“Troy and Linda selected interesting speakers from outside William & Mary, and assembled an excellent group of faculty participants from across William & Mary and VIMS,” says Liz Canuel, a VIMS professor of marine science. Canuel is developing her own interdisciplinary course, Sustainability & Chesapeake Bay, to bring together diverse teams of students to address complex, environmental problems. “Overall, the workshop was beneficial in expanding my knowledge base about team science, and enabled me to gain new insights about best practices for encouraging, and developing team science approaches.”

Jim Barber, associate professor of education at the William & Mary School of Education, will also use what he learned at the workshop to inform his teaching, as well as his own research in integrative learning.

“I gained a new awareness of the research in learning processes in the sciences, including the body of literature on team science and cognition,” Barber says. “I also gained great personal connections; it was fantastic to meet other faculty colleagues from W&M and across the country who share my interest in improving student learning.”

After gaining a clearer understanding of team science from speakers, the participants brainstormed what a potential team science training program for graduate students might look like.

“I’m really pleased,” Hartley reflects. “The workshop elevated everyone’s understanding of team science, and helped frame what we could do in a team science professional development training.”

As of now, Hartley thinks the workshop is likely to be a series of two two-and-a-half day workshops for graduate students from the marine Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math community and social science community. The workshops will teach students the science of team science, how to self-reflect on the effectiveness of one’s own behavior and the team’s performance, and give them a chance to actually do team science by coming up with a transdisciplinary solution to improve the resilience of a specific community to sea level rise and flooding.

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