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Essential Resources for Team Science Success

An example of a large research team; the AIMS (Aquatic Intermittency effects of Microbiomes in Steams) team preparing for a project-wide sampling campaign in June 2021

Working in teams is fundamentally how science gets done. Even ideas generated by one individual must be reviewed by several peers before they can be published and used. However, in order to better tackle complex scientific challenges and questions, research teams must be built, and they often span across borders, institutions, and disciplines. Team science is the term used to describe research “conducted by more than one person in an interdependent fashion, including research conducted by small teams and larger groups [1].'' Team science is becoming more common in academic research due to a myriad of benefits both for researchers and scientific outcomes, such as increased diversity in disciplinary expertise, demographics, and representation of institutions, which results in innovative solutions, increased citations, and greater impact [2-9].

However, working in teams poses several unique challenges that researchers must overcome to conduct Team Science effectively. The National Research Council’s report on Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science [1] identified seven key challenges:

  1. addressing team diversity

  2. integrating across knowledge domains

  3. larger team sizes create coordination issues

  4. misaligned goals within the team

  5. permeable boundaries and changing team membership

  6. geographic dispersal and coordination

  7. interdependence on tasks among subgroups

These challenges pose barriers to all researchers conducting Team Science, but often disproportionately affect graduate students and early career researchers (S&ECRs) [10,11].

S&ECRs are often transitioning into a new career stage that involves adapting to new management styles, navigating unwritten rules of academia, and generally conducting their own research; S&ECRs who are also being integrated into Team Science must balance these challenges with the additional tasks of working with a wider network of unique personalities, interdependent data streams, unfamiliar methodologies, and sometimes even conflicting research objectives [12].

Oftentimes, S&ECRs facing these challenges are not receiving adequate onboarding or training to work in research teams effectively. Here, we have synthesized several resources that S&ECRs can utilize to better understand effective Team Science, as well as some tips from current S&ECRs working across large research teams.

Key Resources:

It can be hard to know where to look to find training resources for Team Science. Here are some that have been helpful to us!

1. The NIH National Cancer Institute 2018 publication: Collaboration and Team Science Field Guide by Bennett, Gadlin, and Marchand

This comprehensive workbook is one of the most helpful resources out there for self-teaching key Team Science principles! With accessible writing and helpful figures, case studies and exercises, and open dialogue on challenges, this field guide is very easy to work through and learn to work effectively in research teams.

2. The National Research Council 2015 report: Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science

This report by the National Research Council synthesizes much of the pre-existing research on the science of Team Science to acknowledge challenges and provide guidance on how to form, manage, and develop research teams. This report can be downloaded for free and provides scaffolding for understanding Team Science.

This paper focuses on the roles of individuals in Team Science. This paper provides an important scaffolding for understanding the different aspects of diversity people bring to teams, as well as makes recommendations for exercises that can help foster the development of constructive interpersonal skills.

This paper provides six guiding principles that demystify the coauthorship process on large teams. While these strategies are most important for those building research teams to integrate into the team structure, understanding how they can be employed is beneficial for everyone on the team.

This paper provides 10 helpful guiding principles that reduce the opportunity for conflict, and allow for resolution to occur when conflict does happen. While many of these feel like common sense, reading through this periodically serves as a reminder of simple things that can often help defuse tension and conflict.

6. ADVANCEGeo Partnership Community Resources

ADVANCEGeo is an awesome partnership that has curated a large variety of resources aimed at transforming workplace climate from institutional and structural to individual levels. ADVANCEGeo offers workshops and online educational resources covering topics including anti-racism and bias recognition, safe field work practices, and training and reporting.

7. Team Science classes (for example, see Peterson et al. preprint)

Arguably the best resource for Team Science training are official courses aimed at teaching the principles of effective team science. We understand that this resource is not always available – despite many studies showing that the burden of learning to collaborate effectively often falls on graduate students and ECRs, many research teams do not yet have the infrastructure to provide these instructive courses. For more information about what we discussed and how you could build your own Team Science class, check out this preprint!

Hopefully these resources provide a helpful starting point for understanding how Team Science works, and the self-reflection it takes to be an effective team member.

Advice and Tips from Current S&ECR Team Science Researchers

For those who might be starting their journey as a member of a large research team, we’ve also listed some tips and advice for students and ECRs from our experiences in Team Science that might also be helpful!

Team building is key, talk to people on the team about things other than science!

Building trust and psychological safety with your team is very important; while it can be hard to find time to discuss things outside of science, this is one of the best ways to build relationships and trust with each other.

Take time to understand your own communication and management styles!

While it might feel silly to take personality tests, understanding how you work with others and self-reflecting on what that means for your collaborations is important. Once you know how you work best, you’ll have an easier time setting boundaries and lines of communication with other personality and management types, which will help reduce the opportunity for conflict. We recommend the Parker Team Player Survey, which identifies the behaviors you most often use in team settings.

Understand conflicts will arise, and that is not inherently bad!

Conflict is a part of team-building, and when conflict is introduced and resolved, a team can actually become stronger. In fact, being avoidant of all conflict can actually exacerbate issues and usually result in explosive conflict that makes it hard, if not impossible, to collaborate. While you should still treat everyone with respect and engage in constructive (rather than destructive) team behaviors, be ready to face conflict head on and professionally so that the team can move forward. It will be uncomfortable, but is an important facet of team science!

Change is the only constant!

Understanding that directions and individual roles within a project or team may change is crucial to successful team dynamics. The ability for leaders to also be led and visa versa puts the focus on the act of doing science versus personal gain.

Don’t take it personal!

It is important to remember that the team is working towards a common goal but that at the end of the day, all team members are human. You may have to give more flexibility in team science settings compared to individual work due to differing schedules and work styles. Don’t take sluggishness personally, it’s part of the process!

And lastly, if you find yourself in a position where you are building a large research team, please consider how you can effectively teach these Team Science principles to your team! Having a formal learning process for effective teamwork helps get everyone on the same page!

Works Cited

  1. National Research Council. 2015. Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Page (N. J. Cooke and M. L. Hilton, Eds.). The National Academies Press, Washington, DC.

  2. Jones, B. F., S. Wuchty, and B. Uzzi. 2008. Multi-University Research Teams: Shifting Impact, Geography, and Stratification in Science. Science 322:1259–1262.

  3. Farrell, K. J., K. C. Weathers, S. H. Sparks, J. A. Brentrup, C. C. Carey, M. C. Dietze, J. R. Foster, K. L. Grayson, J. H. Matthes, and M. D. SanClements. 2021. Training macrosystems scientists requires both interpersonal and technical skills. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 19:39–46.

  4. O’Rourke, M., S. Crowley, B. Laursen, B. Robinson, and S. E. Vasko. 2019. Disciplinary Diversity in Teams: Integrative Approaches from Unidisciplinarity to Transdisciplinarity. Pages 21–46 in K. L. Hall, A. L. Vogel, and R. T. Croyle, editors. Strategies for Team Science Success: Handbook of Evidence-Based Principles for Cross-Disciplinary Science and Practical Lessons Learned from Health Researchers. Springer International Publishing, Cham.

  5. Gibbs, K. D., A. Han, and J. Lun. 2019. Demographic Diversity in Teams: The Challenges, Benefits, and Management Strategies. Pages 197–205 in K. L. Hall, A. L. Vogel, and R. T. Croyle, editors. Strategies for Team Science Success: Handbook of Evidence-Based Principles for Cross-Disciplinary Science and Practical Lessons Learned from Health Researchers. Springer International Publishing, Cham.

  6. Hofstra, B., V. Kulkarni, S. Munoz-Najar Galvez, B. He, D. Jurafsky, and D. McFarland. 2020. The Diversity–Innovation Paradox in Science | PNAS. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 117:9284–9291.

  7. Yang, Y., T. Y. Tian, T. K. Woodruff, B. F. Jones, and B. Uzzi. 2022. Gender-diverse teams produce more novel and higher-impact scientific ideas. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 119:e2200841119.

  8. Freeman, R. B., and W. Huang. 2014. Collaboration: Strength in diversity. Nature 513:305–305.

  9. AlShebli, B. K., T. Rahwan, and W. L. Woon. 2018. The preeminence of ethnic diversity in scientific collaboration. Nature Communications 9:5163.

  10. Pannell, J. L., A. M. Dencer-Brown, S. S. Greening, E. A. Hume, R. M. Jarvis, C. Mathieu, J. Mugford, and R. Runghen. 2019. An early career perspective on encouraging collaborative and interdisciplinary research in ecology. Ecosphere 10:e02899.

  11. Deng, H., H. Breunig, J. Apte, and Y. Qin. 2022. An Early Career Perspective on the Opportunities and Challenges of Team Science. Environmental Science & Technology 56:1478–1481.

  12. Peterson, D. M., S. M. Flynn, R. S. Lanfear, C. Smith, L. J. Swenson, A. M. Belskis, S. C. Cook, C. T. Wheeler, J. F. Wilhelm, A. J. Burgin. Preprint 2023. Team Science: A Syllabus for Success on Big Projects. Authorea.

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