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Complex socio-environmental challenges require interdisciplinary, team-based research capacity. Graduate students are fundamental to building such capacity, yet formal opportunities for graduate students to develop these capacities and skills are uncommon. This paper presents an assessment of the Graduate Pursuit (GP) program, a formal interdisciplinary team science graduate research and training program administered by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Quantitative and qualitative assessment of the program's first cohort revealed that participants became significantly more comfortable with interdisciplinary research and team science approaches, increased their capacity to work across disciplines, and were enabled to produce tangible research outcomes. Qualitative analysis of four themes-(1) discipline, specialization, and shared purpose, (2) interpersonal skills and personality, (3) communication and teamwork, and (4) perceived costs and benefits-encompass participants' positive and negative experiences and support findings from past assessments. The findings also identify challenges and benefits related to individual personality traits and team personality orientation, the importance of perceiving a sense of autonomy and independence, and the benefit of graduate training programs independent of the university and graduate program environment.
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Integrating team science into interdisciplinary graduate education:
an exploration of the SESYNC Graduate Pursuit
Kenneth E. Wallen
&Karen Filbee-Dexter
&Jeremy B. Pittman
&Stephen M. Posner
&Steven M. Alexander
Chelsie L. Romulo
&Drew E. Bennett
&Elizabeth C. Clark
&Stella J.M. Cousins
&Bradford A. Dubik
Margaret Garcia
&Heather A. Haig
&Elizabeth A. Koebele
&Jiangxiao Qiu
&Ryan C. Richards
Celia C. Symons
&Samuel C. Zipper
#The Author(s) 2019
Complex socio-environmental challenges require interdisciplinary, team-based research capacity. Graduate students are fundamental
to building such capacity, yet formal opportunities for graduate students to develop these capacities and skills are uncommon. This
paper presents an assessment of the Graduate Pursuit (GP) program, a formal interdisciplinary team science graduate research and
training program administered by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC). Quantitative and qualitative
assessment of the programs first cohort revealed that participants became significantly more comfortable with interdisciplinary
research and team science approaches, increased their capacity to work across disciplines, and were enabled to produce tangible
research outcomes. Qualitative analysis of four themes(1) discipline, specialization, and shared purpose, (2) interpersonal skills and
personality, (3) communication and teamwork, and (4) perceived costs and benefitsencompass participantspositive and negative
experiences and support findings from past assessments. The findings also identify challenges and benefits related to individual
personality traits and team personality orientation, the importance of perceiving a sense of autonomy and independence, and the
benefit of graduate training programs independent of the university and graduate program environment.
Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article
( contains supplementary
material, which is available to authorized users.
*Kenneth E. Wallen
Division of Agriculture, University of Arkansas System,
Fayetteville, AR, USA
Département de Biologie, Laval University, Québec City, QU,
School of Planning, University of Waterloo, Toronto, ON, Canada
COMPASS, Silver Spring, MD, USA
Gund Institute for Environment, University of Vermont,
Burlington, VT, USA
Environmental Change and Governance Group, Faculty of
Environment, University of Waterloo, Waterloo, NO, Canada
Stockholm Resilience Centre, Stockholm University,
Stockholm, Sweden
Environmental and Sustainability Studies Program, University of
Northern Colorado, Greeley, CO, USA
Haub School of Environment and Natural Resources, University of
Wyoming, Laramie, WY, USA
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University,
Beaufort, NC, USA
Department of Natural Resource Management and Environmental
Science, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis
Obispo, CA, USA
School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment,
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
Department of Biology, University of Regina, Regina, SK, Canada
Department of Political Science, University of Nevada, Reno, NV,
School of Forest Resources and Conservation, Fort Lauderdale
Research and Education Center, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL, USA
Center for American Progress, Washington, DC, USA
Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of
California, Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, CA, USA
Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, McGill University,
Montreal, QU, Canada
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Victoria,
Victoria, BC, Canada
Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences
Keywords Collaboration .Content analysis .Graduate education .Personality traits .Program evaluation .Qualitative research
Contemporary socio-environmental (S-E) challenges like cli-
mate change, biodiversity loss, water management, and re-
newable energy are multifactorial and cannot be appropriately
conceptualized, defined, or examined from a single scientific
disciplinary perspective. They demand the application of in-
terdisciplinary research (IDR) and team science (TS) ap-
proaches to capitalize on diverse perspectives and knowledge
domains (Palmer et al. 2016; Table 1). Several factors contrib-
ute to this demand for IDR and TS: (a) the inherent complexity
and dynamism of socio-environmental interactions, (b) disci-
plinary perspectives that are too narrow to thoroughly address
the complexity of real-world issues and questions, (c) the ur-
gency of S-E challenges, and (d) the availability of facilitating
technologies (National Research Council [NRC] 2005). Such
factors also reflect an imperative to develop and evaluate or-
ganized training and research programs. Organized and struc-
tured programs can generate the IDR and TS capacity neces-
sary to create and sustain a S-E research community capable
of addressing challenges now and in the future (Clark et al.
2011). While the need for IDR and TS remains salient, the
novelty of organized IDR and TS training programs requires
evaluation of experiences, practices, and curriculum to assess
quality and effectiveness. The imperative to evaluate IDR and
TS training efficacy is particularly salient for those programs
designed for graduate students, as participants are positioned
to assume leadership in academic and conservation
institutions in the future (Meyer et al. 2015). Here, we present
a post-program assessment of a project-based TS graduate
training program, separate from participantsuniversity-
based graduate program, whose objective is to develop TS
and IDR capacity: the Graduate Pursuit (GP) program admin-
istered by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center
To sustain a community of research and practice with
the ethos and skills to produce and apply high-quality S-E
science requires that graduate students acquire IDR and TS
skills. Graduate students in S-E fields require opportunities
to develop team-based research and collaborative problem
solving skills, interpersonal and relational skills, and the
skills to learn and integrate concepts from othersdisci-
plines (Bosque-Pérez et al. 2016;Cannonetal.1996;
Graesser et al. 2018). Such opportunities facilitate the de-
velopment of skills and experiences that transfer to profes-
sional practice but are uncommon in formal graduate cur-
ricula (Blickley et al. 2013; Colón-Rivera et al. 2013;
Hampton et al. 2017;Tressetal.2007). Some university-
based graduate programs provide these opportunities, and
associated assessments of them are available (Graybill
et al. 2006; Read and Garcia 2015). However, limitations
in infrastructure, expertise, and funding constrain the prev-
alence and scope of university-based programs to foster
and support interdisciplinary, team-based S-E research.
Moreover, university-based programs tend to be developed
within the existing graduate program structures, which
Table 1 Glossary of key terms
Term Definition
research (S-E)
The study of co-dependent human and natural systems, i.e., linked social and
biophysical systems that mutually influence one another, including their
structure, dynamics, and sustainability. Understanding these systems often
involves synthesis research that is relevant across multiple spatial, temporal, and
cultural contexts.
Synthesis research Research approach that uses various sources of knowledge and expertise to
accelerate knowledge production, define new approaches or directions, and
integrate ideas, theories, and/or data.
Interdisciplinary research
An interactive process that integrates knowledge from multiple scientific
disciplines and non-scientific sectors to jointly address research
questions/problems and synthesize knowledge. Here, we do not distinguish
interdisciplinary from transdisciplinary, which some view as a higher-order
process and others use to refer to the practice of including knowledge-users or
stakeholders as participants in the research process.
Team science (TS) Cross-disciplinary and/or cross-sector research initiatives formed by various
collaborators and partners (often long-term). TS initiatives leverage the
strengths and expertise of partners trained and experienced in different fields to
co-develop, co-define, co-produce, and co-implement research questions that
pertain to a common or overlapping subject matter with the intent to integrate
J Environ Stud Sci
position the needs and desired outcomes of the program in
competition with the IDR and TS needs of the broader S-E
field. In comparison with university-based programs, the
GP features a unique setting and programmatic design that
would be expected to generate different benefits and chal-
lenges. Identifying these benefits and challenges and plac-
ing them within IDR and TS literature directs the purpose
of this assessment and its contribution to the S-E field.
Our assessment asks what strengths, weaknesses, chal-
lenges, and benefits did GP participants experience and how
do these compare with previous assessments of graduate train-
ing programs? To answer this question, we use qualitative
(open-ended) and quantitative (close-ended) measures to as-
sess participants experiences, beliefs, opinions, and percep-
tions related to the GP. Qualitative measures and content anal-
ysis are used to explore emergent theme-related experiences
with the program, their team, and their project, as well as their
perceptions of IDR/TS training and skills development.
Quantitative measures are used to assess beliefs about team
success, integration, and comfort with IDR and TS and to
examine personality traits and their relationship to success
and integration, which are linked to IDR progress and out-
comes (Bennett et al. 2018; National Research Council
2015). We discuss findings relative to the previous assess-
ments of interdisciplinary graduate training programs (e.g.,
Golde and Gallagher 1999;Graybilletal.2006; Meyer et al.
2015). While our assessment is exploratory, it represents an
essential step towards assessing participant experiences with
and perceptions of TS/IDR training and demonstrating the
GPs impact on TS/IDR capacity-building. Such information
is valuable to advance conversations about interdisciplinary
graduate training program effectiveness, particularly as calls
for IDR/TS skills and experience in the S-E field grows. Our
research questions and findings are also relevant and valuable
to educators and program directors who design S-E graduate
curricula, as well as graduate students and early-career re-
searchers in the S-E field currently engaging or seeking to
engage in IDR and TS.
Challenges and benefits of interdisciplinary
research and team science
The increased frequency of interdisciplinary, team-based re-
search in S-E fields and, importantly, assessments of them
continually improve our understanding of the hallmarks, chal-
lenges, barriers, and conditions that facilitate effective IDR
and TS (Edelenbos et al. 2017;NRC2005;Palmeretal.
2016). The NRC identified seven parallel hallmarks of and
challenges to effective IDR and TS initiatives: (1) member
diversity, (2) knowledge integration, (3) team size, (4) goal
alignment, (5) boundary permeability, (6) geographic disper-
sion, and (7) task interdependence (NRC 2015). Key elements
to overcome these challenges include organized research
frameworks (structures) and practices that facilitate collabora-
tive interaction (processes) (Lindenfeld et al. 2012;McGreavy
et al. 2013,2015; Wallen 2017). Awareness and application of
these hallmarks and challenges are key factors that influence
the success of IDR/TS initiatives and should therefore be con-
sidered and incorporated into those initiatives, yet that consid-
eration is uncommon. Moreover, purposeful and accountable
assessment of these and other factors as components of IDR
and TS initiatives is a relatively recent phenomenon (Jacobs
and Frickel 2009).
Past assessments show that various hallmarks and chal-
lenges listed above contribute to IDR/TS success and failure,
which can be defined as the development of basic and applied
research outcomes and/or increased capacity of researchers to
function in IDR/TS settings. For instance, teams comprised of
members with diverse disciplines, experiences, career stages,
and socio-demographics are often more successful than others
(Cheruvelil et al. 2014; Nancarrow et al. 2013). As caveats,
team member diversity should be weighed and balanced with
the ability to develop a shared purpose, agree on similar goals
or incentives, and integrate knowledge from diverse domains
of expertise. Regarding knowledge integration, others empha-
size the importance of processes that link individual learning
to research outcomes via joint problem formulation, participa-
tory learning, and use of shared conceptual models
(Heemskerk et al. 2003;Pennington2016). Assessments also
reveal interpersonal and communication skills, and
the research processes that facilitate their development, con-
tribute to positively to outcomes and experiences (McGreavey
et al. 2013,2015). Communication competencies and patterns
also influence how knowledge is mutually understood, co-
developed, and synthesized, which can afford or constrain
inclusivity, teamwork, and progress towards shared goals
(Cheruvelil et al. 2014;Thompson2009). Others emphasize
the importance of managing interpersonal relationships and
interacting personalities within teams (Bennett et al. 2018;
LePine et al. 2011;Molleman2005; Peeters et al. 2006). In
practice, however, such elements and skills are often not rec-
ognized as prerequisites, and the skills to engage in or cope
with them must be developed. Collectively, past assessments
emphasize attention to developing and facilitating research
processes that expand researchersskills to manage individual
and shared goals, interpersonal interactions, and two-way
Graduate students face similar challenges with established
researchers and practitioners who engage in IDR and TS.
These include the following: (a) team selection and diversity
(Morse et al. 2007; Newswander and Borrego 2009), (b) prob-
lem formulation and knowledge integration (Tress et al.
2009), (c) communication and interpersonal skills develop-
ment (Read et al. 2016;Recordetal.2016; Tress et al.
2007), and (d) cost-benefit balance (Read and Garcia 2015).
J Environ Stud Sci
Graduate students also face unique challenges (Demharter
et al. 2017; Rhoten and Parker 2004). These relate to their
status as students and the structure of graduate programs,
which prioritize disciplinary-focused research activities
(Tress et al. 2009). Other scholars identify challenges related
to (a) a lack of exposure to and engagement with students of
other disciplines or (b) an appropriate supervision, mentoring,
and pedagogical approach (Bosque-Pérez et al. 2016;Record
et al. 2016). Consequently, graduate students who engage in
S-E research are often challenged to balance the disciplinary
depth required by their graduate program while simultaneous-
ly broadening their interdisciplinary breadth to address com-
plex S-E issues. Though myriad challenges exist, graduate
students are well-positioned to receive substantial and endur-
ing benefits from IDR and TS experiences as they are at a
formative stage of their career (Graybill et al. 2006;
Moslemi et al. 2009). Moreover, IDR and TS supplement
traditional graduate training by facilitating active collabora-
tions, professional interactions, and essential skills develop-
ment. As such, providing opportunities to address S-E issues
via IDR and TS approaches while simultaneously lessening
challenges and enabling skills development is imperative.
Assessments of interdisciplinary graduate training in a uni-
versity setting suggest various best practices to lessen chal-
lenges and enable skills development. At a program-level
these include the following: (a) developing a core curriculum
or competencies, (b) clarifying expectations for both depth
and breadth, (c) providing mentoring and mentor training,
(d) ensuring (in)formal, theoretical, and experiential educa-
tional opportunities, and (e) clear communication of expecta-
tions (Meyer et al. 2015). At the individual-level, activities
that facilitate the development of IDR/TS capacity include
(a) facilitating interactions with external graduate faculty and
students, (b) joining projects that are related to onesdisserta-
tion subject, (c) identifying the practical relevance of a project,
and (d) establishing a sense of project ownership (Tress et al.
2009;Graybilletal.2006; Ryser et al. 2009). Numerous pro-
grams and trainings have been developed, implemented, and
evaluated within existing graduate program or university
structures to offer and facilitate IDR and TS. Examples of
these include the National Science Foundations(NSF)
Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship
(IGERT), Research Traineeship (NRT) programs and deriva-
tives such as the Applied Biodiversity Science (ABS) program
(Landon et al. 2015) and the Employing Model-Based
Reasoning in Socio-Environmental Synthesis (EMBeRS)
workshop (Killion et al. 2018). However, few initiatives have
attempted to meet IDR and TS capacity-building needs via
programs independent of a university setting. In this context,
the learning environment, constraints and affordances, and
expectations may be distinct and manifest differently.
Moreover, existing outside the university, such programs bet-
ter reflect what is required and expected of S-E professionals,
and to our knowledge, no assessment of such an IDR/TS
graduate training program has been conducted.
SESYNC Graduate Pursuit
The National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center
(SESYNC) was established in 2011 through a US National
Science Foundation award to the University of Maryland
(Palmer et al. 2016). SESYNC operates as a boundary orga-
nization (Guston 2001). Its mission is Bto foster synthetic,
actionable science related to the structure, functioning, and
sustainability of socio-environmental systems,^which is
achieved through several programs (workshops, training,
postdoctoral fellowships). Their core program, Pursuits, facil-
itate the creation of S-E research teams via an in-kind support
(Baron et al. 2017; Biancani et al. 2018). That is, unlike a
traditional research grant, Pursuits support teams with logistic
support fundstravel, accommodations, meeting facilities,
collaboration space, and computational support and
cyberinfrastructureand staff that provide technical consult-
ing and professional facilitation; Pursuits do not fund primary
data collection that requires offsite fieldwork, surveys, or
The goal of a Pursuit is the creation of a highly interdisci-
plinary team, with members in and out of academia, which co-
develops and undertakes research to synthesize diverse data
and knowledge and results in findings or products that are
applicable or actionable across multiple scales and sectors,
with the potential to inform decision-makers. Teams range
from 10 to 25 members and are supported for a duration of
1824 months. SESYNC designed and implements a frame-
work with several reflexive and iterative practices to foster
interdisciplinary skills training and research progress over
the life of a Pursuit (Fig. 1). The recursive nature of the frame-
work allows teams to iteratively implement, practice, learn,
and reexamine various stages and elements of a project (e.g.,
project planning, meeting agenda setting, communication
strategies, or database management). While ultimately a linear
process from research proposal to research product(s), the
framework allows teams and individuals to revisit many as-
pects of the research process to increase a teams potential for
success and an individuals capacity to succeed within the
IDR/TS setting.
In 2014, SESYNC used this framework to initiate the
Graduate Pursuit program (
educator/programs/graduate-programs), an experiential, IDR/
TS training program that engages doctoral students in the
same manner as Pursuits. Several aspects reflect what would
be required and expected of any other grant application pro-
cess, i.e., developing a competitive proposal and forming a
team reflective of accomplishing the proposed research. To
those ends, the GP requires self-formation of teams (57
J Environ Stud Sci
members) with diverse backgrounds and disciplines to pro-
pose, conduct, and disseminate S-E research in a TS setting.
The central and distinguishing feature of the GP, in compari-
son with other graduate training programs, is that students
independently form and lead teams and projects as principal
investigators from proposal to publication. The GP is designed
as a long-term (1218 months) training program, independent
of studentsgraduate program, wherein doctoral students con-
duct research while simultaneously developing and using
skills necessary to navigate and excel in a TS setting. The
program comprises a series of multi-day team meetings at
SESYNC, long-term and structured engagement with staff,
tailored cyberinfrastructure and computational support, and
leadership training in the management and organization of
teams for designated team leaders (two per team). The present
study represents an exploratory effort to assess the GPsout-
comes via a survey of its first cohort.
Study participants (n= 39) comprised six teams who began
their program in January 2015. All respondents were a doc-
toral student or candidate at the start of the GP.
Geographically, most GP participants attended universities in
the USA: Northeast (6), South Atlantic region (7), South (3),
Midwest (5), Mountain West (3), and West (6). Globally, uni-
versities from Australia (1), Canada (6), Germany (1), and the
UK (1) were represented. The first cohorts program formally
ended in April 2016. In August 2016, an online, anonymous
questionnaire of closed- and open-ended questions was sent to
the cohort via Qualtrics online survey platform (KEW, KFD,
JBP, and SMP were cohort members and developed the ques-
tionnaire but did not respond; all other authors were cohort
members and did respond). The study was approved by the
Texas A&M University Institutional Review Board
(IRB2016-0466) and informed consent was obtained prior to
The questionnaire assessed participantsexperiences with
the program, team, and project (Online Resource 1).
Questions were developed using past assessments and key
themes from the literature to explore participantsexperiences
and perceptions of success, integration, challenges, benefits,
training, and skills development (Cheruvelil et al. 2014;
Nancarrow et al. 2013;Recordetal.2016). Success was mea-
sured as Bhow would you rate your teams overall success?^;
integration as Bhow would you rate the level of integration
(between disciplines) your team achieved?^; pre- and post-
participation comfort with IDR and TS as Bhow would rate
your comfort level working in a team on an interdisciplinary
project?^; and intention to continue IDR and TS as Bwill you
pursue interdisciplinary collaborations and/or team science
Fig. 1 An outline of the SESYNC
Graduate Pursuit framework:
structures, processes, and
practices. The GP framework
proposes two main research
stages (ovals) and various
research structures and processes
(squares): research development
and training (light hue), project
facilitation activities and tools
(medium hue), and objective and
desired outcomes (dark hue).
Dash-lined arrows represent
iterative processes to improve
research outcomes, skills
development, and team dynamics,
while solid arrows represent
designed workflow
J Environ Stud Sci
research during the next stage of your career?^. All close-
ended questions were measured using a 5-point Likert
scale. In addition to these close-ended questions, we ad-
ministered the Ten-Item Personality Inventory (TIPI)
(Gosling et al. 2003) to assess variation among participants
and profile teams across five personality dimensions.
These dimensions are as follows: extraversion (outgoing
reserved), neuroticism (calmanxious), agreeableness
(sympatheticcritical), conscientiousness (dependabledis-
organized), and openness to experience (openconvention-
al) (McCrae and Costa Jr 2010). We also compare integra-
tion and self-reported success across teamsTIPI profiles.
Personality items were measured on a 7-point Likert scale
(strongly disagreestrongly agree).
To measure participantsexperiences with the GP, we
asked, as an open-ended prompt: Bwhat do you consider
the lowlight(s) or negative takeaway(s) from your
Graduate Pursuit experience?^and Bwhat do you consider
the highlight(s) or positive takeaway(s) of your Graduate
Pursuit experience?^. Challenges and barriers were mea-
sured with an open-ended prompt, Bwhat challenges did
your team face during the Graduate Pursuit?^;Bhow did
your team overcome these challenges?^;Bdid you perceive
any barriers or challenges while participating in the
Graduate Pursuit?^;Bhow did you overcome these
challenges?^. Success was also measured with an open-
ended prompt: Bwhat factors were most important to your
teams success?^and Bwhat was missing but would have
been helpful or facilitated team success?^. Other open-
ended prompts that inform our assessment were as follows:
Bhow has the Graduate Pursuit differed from other interdis-
ciplinary experiences or projects you have been part of?^;
Bwhat opportunities did participating in the Graduate
Pursuit facilitate?^;Bbased on your experiences, what do
you think are important principles for interdisciplinary re-
search opportunities for graduate students and early career
researchers?; and Bwhat skills/knowledge gained from
your experience will you take forward to new projects or
do you think are transferable to the next step(s) of your
Standard descriptive statistics and mean comparison
were used to analyze and summarize quantitative items in
R (v.3.2.1). Qualitative data were coded for emergent
themes using content analysis and analyzed using NVivo
qualitative data analysis software (Krippendorff 2004).
Two researchers independently read and coded qualitative
data and compared their coding processes to minimize bias
in accordance with standard research practices (Patton
2002). Open- and close-ended measures allowed us to tri-
angulate across different forms of data to infer how partic-
ipants viewed and experienced the GP. As such, we inte-
grate our presentation of these data in a combined results
and discussion section.
Results and discussion
In total, 26 individuals of the eligible 35 responded, with at
least 3 respondents per team (74% response rate). Self-
identified demographics and disciplines of respondents are
provided in Table 2. The following subsections reflect four
emergent themes derived from content analysis, and we pres-
ent an integration of qualitative and quantitative within these:
(1) integration, disciplinary specialization, and shared pur-
pose; (2) communication and teamwork; (3) personality, inter-
personal skills, and conflict management; and (4) perceived
costs and benefits.
Integration, disciplinary specialization, and shared
For some GP team members, it was challenging to balance
disciplinary concepts and methods and find common ground
(Table 3). Despite this initial challenge, teams identified specific
mechanisms and conditions that aided this necessary objective
for effective cross-disciplinary research. For example, a team
overcame disciplinary jargon by employing an overarching
framework as a Bboundary object^to better define disciplinary
language and facilitate discussions (S1). Interestingly, the use of
boundary objects or concepts is becoming a more common as-
pect of IDR and TS, but references to its use in graduate contexts
is limited (McGreavy et al. 2013; Mattor et al. 2014; Pittman
et al. 2016). For another team, shared knowledge of the system
being investigated helped establish common ground (S2). Other
teams used more traditional methods like delegating disciplinary
specific work to subgroups or sub-projects (S3, S4), but not all
viewed this as positive (S5).
Others identified lack of methodological integration or
expertise as a significant challenge (Table 3,S6).Forsome
Table 2 Demographic characteristics of respondents
Gender (N= 26) Females 18
Males 8
Age Mean 32.6
Range 2354
Disciplinary focus (self-identified)Ecology 5
Environmental engineering 4
Environmental science 5
Geography 4
Social science 8
Team responses/team size Team 1 3/6
Tea m 2 5 /9
Tea m 3 4 /7
Tea m 4 4 /6
Tea m 5 6 /7
Tea m 6 4 /8
J Environ Stud Sci
teams, this manifested as research activities becoming spe-
cialized due to members methodological or computational
expertise (e.g., coding, programming) (S7). This challenge
is also identified by past assessments (e.g., Ryser et al.
2009;Pennington2016). Participants also viewed mean-
ingful integration of concepts and data as a challenge, but
the underlying reasons varied (Table 3, S8, S9). For some,
the challenge was related to differences in theoretical per-
spectives while others attributed this challenge to the use
of different methods or analytical frameworks.
Despite these challenges, respondents reported in-
creased comfort with IDR and TS from pre- to post-
participation (pre M= 3.62, SD = 1.02; post M= 4.73,
SD = 0.45; t(25) = 5.51, p< .001, d= 1.41). For instance,
participants stated: BIthinkIm much more open minded
and able to see limitations of disciplinary thought much
more easily^(S10a); Bworking across disciplines exposes
some of the siloed thinking that goes on within each of
our own fields^(S10b). This suggests the research struc-
tures and process implemented by the GP were by and
Table 3 Integration, disciplinary
specialization, and shared
purpose theme key quotes and
Category Key quote(s)
Boundary objects BThere were moments where we had to work through discipline-specific
jargon. We addressed this through patience with each other and the
socio-ecological system framework. The SESF served as a boundary object
and an exercise in selecting and defining the variables of interest helped to
work through the differences.^S1
BOur shared knowledge of the system was so key to smooth interaction. One
person might do qualitative interviews, and the other spatial ecology, but
given that everyone knew the social and ecological elements in a robust, but
general way, we could communicate the purpose of analyses, statistical tests,
policy implications etc.^S2
Subgroups BThe subgroup structure within our group was such that you were working in
different groups for different parts of the project. This ensured that ideas
were flowing better all members of the group, and we were kept up-to-date
instead of breaking into small groups that did not get to talk very often.^S3
BIdentifying key sub projects and structuring them to ensure engagement of all
members, and synthesis across sub projects. It really seemed to be about
building the right framework through leadership, and then using a more
hands-off approach.^S4
BI rated the team somewhat unintegrated because we are still basically
functioning as two separate groups.^S5
Conceptual and
methodological integration
BOne of our case studies mixes qualitative analysis of media history with
quantitative analysis of agricultural response to drought. Both techniques
yield interesting results, but not necessarily results that make sense to
intertwine into one story.^S6
BInterestingly one of the biggest challenges I found was that some of our team
members were very efficient in R while others were not. This gave some
members a certain degree of authority over the questions being asked,
because they were the only ones analyzing the data. Sometimes we would
spend whole meetings with some people trying to explain how the data was
being operationalized in R (example: how they were assigning different
people to different groups). This sometimes made it difficult for people to
propose theories, because they were not 100% clear on how certain
variables were being produced.^S7
BOur team took quite a bit of time to figure out the best way to link our
individual disciplines and skill sets. I would say our level of integration
would be very high going forward, if we were to continue with the project
for another term.^S8
BSome members held on to their disciplinary ideas, and the context
surrounding these ideas very strongly, making creative integration a
challenge sometimes.^S9
Expanded epistemology BI think I am much more open minded and able to see limitations of
disciplinary thought much more easily.^S10a
BWorking across disciplines exposes some of the siloed thinking that goes on
within each of our own fields.^S10b
J Environ Stud Sci
large successful at facilitating teamsability to find com-
mon ground or meaningful points of integration. Increases
in disciplinary and methodological specialization will
continue to create challenges for integrating and develop-
ing shared purpose in IDR and TS (National Research
Council 2005; Lindenfeld et al. 2012). Yet, successful
collaboration relies on finding common ground and mean-
ingful integration. Figure 2demonstrates this tenet as, in
general, teams self-reporting high team integration report
high team success. This is further demonstrated by a sig-
nificant positive correlation observed between team suc-
cess and integration (r= 0.58, p<0.01).
Integration of diverse and specialized knowledge for a
shared purpose is fundamental to IDR and TS (Stokols
et al. 2008). As such, interdisciplinary doctoral training
must develop frameworks that support collaborative activ-
ities and disciplinary interaction to increase capacity for
integrating concepts and methods and learning from other
disciplines (Frodeman et al. 2017). Ultimately, building
awareness of other scientific perspectives to create a
shared purpose better enables students to participate in
future interdisciplinary team research projects (Goring
et al. 2014). Graduate students also identified issues
pertaining to methods, analytical frameworks, and data
analyses as barriers to integration and shared purpose.
Team members with certain skills were perceived as ex-
cluding others from participating in analyses and
decision-making (S7, S9). The manifestation of this issue
in graduate teams is interesting considering sophisticated
statistical analyses and big-data approaches are becoming
more common in cross-disciplinary synthesis (Hampton
et al. 2017). The implications of this perceived barrier
and related issues, such as interactions between theory-
based methods and data-driven analyses, is an important
issue to address for the future of S-E science.
Communication and teamwork
Participants described the not only the important role of com-
munication, but also the tension between managing commu-
nication and project momentum and workflow (Table 4).
Respondents indicated several themes that facilitated effective
communication: listening, respecting and incorporating di-
verse viewpoints, learning from other team members, and in-
formal socialization. These contributed to a shared under-
standing of research activities, team goals, and individual re-
sponsibilities. Effective communication helped build clearly
defined roles, trust, and effective working relationships among
team members. Subsequently, this enabled teams to work
through challenges and coordinate, collaboratively and itera-
tively, towards the completion of project tasks. In-person
meetings were referenced as crucial elements of facilitating
communication, social integration, and teamwork, which
aligns with SESYNCs broader framework for collaboration
(S17S19). Teams that focused on continual and scheduled
types of communication (either in-person or web-based) iden-
tified these regular interactions as fundamental to their suc-
cess. Respondents acknowledged the value of these firsthand
exchanges and the importance of them in developing commu-
nication skills, adjusting communication strategies and man-
aging project momentum (S20, S21).
Communication is a central part to any team effort
(McGreavy et al. 2015; Thompson 2009). Effective commu-
nication enables information exchange and development of
relationships among team members but is rarely the focus of
graduate education and training (Read et al. 2016). While
several past assessments note the importance of communica-
tion, others situate communication as the central and focal
element of interdisciplinary research and practice
(Lindenfeld et al. 2012; McGreavy et al. 2013). Our assess-
ment reinforces the paramount importance of communication
Fig. 2 Mean (± SE) of self-reported integration and success ratings by
team (Pearsonsr=0.58, p< 0.01) and the relationship between success
and integration ratings for individual respondents (size of points
corresponds to the number of respondents). Colors correspond to each
team and are consistent throughout
J Environ Stud Sci
and development of communication skills and strategies in
facilitating collaboration (i.e., Stokols et al. 2008).
Interdisciplinary doctoral training programs can meet this
need by providing explicit communication training and sup-
port for teams. Communication is highlighted in many pro-
posed doctoral training best practices and teamwork principles
(Nancarrow et al. 2013).
Our results were similar to other assessments, which sug-
gest that the settings, structures, and processes that support
and facilitate effective communication can be as, if not more,
important to the success of projects as expertise, technical
skills, organization, or leadership (Bennett et al. 2018). As
with most TS projects, GP team leaders served as the nexus
for communication and teamwork and the GP program
Table 4 Communication and
teamwork theme key quotes and
Category Key quote(s)
Continual and scheduled
BClear communication, organization and team rapport were critical to our
BI learned the importance of good communication. It is not enough to assume
that partners have the same goals and expectations. It is important that these
goals and expectations are discussed regularly to maintain motivation and
ensure positive outcomes, particularly when face-to-face meeting are
BA related aspect of this was the strong ongoing communications among team
members that fostered this teamwork and helped people know what their
responsibility was and when it was due.^S13
BWe had regularly scheduled deadlines and phone calls and I think what has
made the group successful is the open and good communication and
BOpen, honest communication about perspectives and availability, and the
ability to deliver on promises made.^S15
BWe dealt with this challenge by encouraging communication and by both
developing a project schedule but being flexible about how itwas achieved.^
In-person meetings and
BBeing able to meet in-person was crucial. The support provided by SESYNC
during meetings made a big difference; having logistics taken care of
allowed us to get the most out of meeting time by focusing on the work and
getting to know each other in a relaxed atmosphere. The face time with
SESYNC staff was also a big part of that support.^S17
BLong face-to-face meetings allowed us to move past the frustrationstage and
into the fine, we are frustrated, but we [should] try to figure out a solution
BWe struggled with our paper topics/formats at the beginning but after lots of
sitting in a room together and talking things out, we found a focus that
worked for us^S19
Momentum BIt was sometime difficult for us to keep our momentum going post-meetings
when we got overwhelmed with our own work, but we tried to keep
bi-weekly or monthly meetings to keep us on track.^S20
BOther challenges were keeping momentum; we tried to remedy this via more
frequent Skype meetings and having a leadon each paper who kept people
Meeting design and project
BI think structured and planned group discussion, quite-moment for people to
reflect, and small group discussions are all very useful, especially when the
discussion seems to come to an end.^S22
BIt was longer [previous program was much shorter, 2 weeks in person
followed by a few months of follow-up], which allowed us to do higher
quality work and deeper thinking about learning take-homes.^S23
Informal socialization BDrinks and dinner together are very good way to bond us, and this bond is the
key for us to work together eventually^S24
BWe were all on the same page with regard to working hard during the day and
enjoying a beverage together in the evenings. In other words, the informal
social times in the evenings were [really] important. But a key piece to that is
that all of us enjoyed it!^S25
J Environ Stud Sci
director met with team leaders before and after each on-site
team meeting to discuss communication and teamwork
challenges and potential strategies to move the project for-
ward. These conversations were intended to heighten
awareness of potential communication gaps and to develop
plans to improve teamwork, if needed. The structure and
process of these scheduled and regular meetings ensured
that the team leaders would continuously communicate
with SESYNC and discuss among themselves the status
of the project and team dynamics. SESYNC also provided
team leaders with feedback on meeting agendas to ensure
the effective use of time, that meeting objectives were
clearly articulated, and the meeting structure and activities
were designed to achieve project objectives.
From our assessment, data suggest that the support
teams, as many of the principles and activities present
are mentioned by respondents. For example, respondents
stated, is important that these goals and expectations
are discussed regularly^(S12), Bwe had regularly sched-
uled deadlines and phone calls and I think what has
made the group successful is the open and good commu-
nication and understanding.^(S14), Bsupport provided by
SESYNC during meetings made a big difference; having
logistics taken care of allowed us to get the most out of
meeting time by focusing on the work and getting to
know each other in a relaxed atmosphere.^(S17), and
Bstructured and planned group discussion...are [all] very
useful.^(S22). Collectively, our findings provide evidence
that strategies like those offered by SESYNC and devel-
oped by GP teams, which facilitate or focus on interper-
sonal communication and communication tools and tech-
niques and create a supportive communication environ-
ment, contribute to successful IDR and TS.
Personality, interpersonal skills, and conflict
Interpersonal dynamics related to personality are a com-
mon and ubiquitous challenge of IDR and TS (Bennett
et al. 2018; Molleman 2005). In general, team members
who perceived others as having positive personality traits
cited this as a strength and a reason for a success. For
example, openness was often referenced as contributing
positively to team progress and success: Bopenness and
interest by all team members to work across boundaries^
(S26), Ball of us were very open to hearing each others
ideas and willing to learn from and about other disciplines^
(S28), and BAny challenges our team faced we overcame
by being completely open and honest^(S29). This theme
was also reflected in teamsability to manage conflict
Results from the TIPI corroborate these findings as
moderate to high ratings of extraversion (4.73, SD =
1.87), agreeableness (M= 5.12, SD = 1.12), conscientious-
ness (M= 5.96, SD = 0.95), emotional stability (M=5.12,
TEAM 1 Extro
TEAM 2 Extro
Team 3
Team 4 Extro
Team 5 Extro
Team 6
Fig. 3 Radial plot distribution of mean self-reported personality trait
score per team for all personality traits. All plots scaled 1 (disagree strong-
ly) to 7 (agree strongly). Colors correspond to each team and are consis-
tent throughout. Teams 3, 5, and 6 self-reported high ratings of team
integration and success, whereas teams 1 and 4 self-reported the lowest
of both measures. Team 2 self-reported high success but moderate to low
integration (see Fig. 2)
J Environ Stud Sci
SD = 1.30), and openness (M= 4.77, SD = 0.76) were re-
ported across participants and within teams (Fig. 3).
Openness was significantly correlated with extraversion
(r= 0.48) and conscientiousness (r= 0.46), which are fur-
ther evidenced in the qualitative data as contributing to a
teams ability to manage and overcome challenges
(Table 5,S26S31). Teams with members sharing similar
personality traits rated the overall success of their project
higher compared with teams with more disparate personal-
ity traits (Figs. 2and 3).Forexample,team1rankedlow-
est in terms of integration and success (Fig. 2)and
contained the most diverse personality traits (round shape
versus star shaped in Fig. 3).
In terms of personality traits, assessments of later-career
collaborations find that team performance, conflict resolution,
and decision-making are affected by dominant personalities,
egocentrism, and associated power dynamics (National
Research Council 2015; Mattor et al. 2014). However, GP
participants did not mention these negative factors. For exam-
ple, two respondents noted, Bwe didnt end up having any
abrasive personalities and everybody pulled their weight^
(S27) and Black of ego and willingness to cooperate were
extremely helpful in making our team successful^(S28).
That is, in general, teams reported amiable interactions and
positive progress towards conflict resolution. The contrast be-
tween later-career and GP experiences is an important finding.
At the graduate stage, overt power dynamics and egoism seem
to be less of an issue or challenge. It is possible to infer that by
providing training and experience with IDR/TS at the gradu-
ate career stage, positive team dynamics, relationship build-
ing, and conflict resolution skills could be ingrained and per-
sist to later-career collaborations. That is, by training graduate
students at a formative time in their career, it is possible that,
apart from enabling IDR/TS capacity-building, programs like
the SESYNC GP limit the potential for negative dimensions
of personality traits to stagnate or impair collaborative S-E
Perceived costs and benefits
Respondents viewed the benefit/cost ratio of GP participation
favorably. When asked if they would pursue future
Table 5 Personality,
interpersonal skills, and conflict
management theme key quotes
and sub-categories
Category Key quote(s)
Openness and
BOpenness and interest by all team members to work across boundaries and to be
respectful/ acknowledge different types of research^S26
BAlso, generally being a good-natured team of overachievers. I am sure most teams
are like this, but we did not end up having any abrasive personalities and
everybody pulled their weight - we do not have to nag or wait up for anyone.^S27
BAll of us were very open to hearing each others ideas and willing to learn from and
about other disciplines. I think the lack of ego and willingness to cooperate were
extremely helpful in making our team successful.^S28
BAny challenges our team faced we overcame by being completely open and honest.
I have never been on any team before where everyone was so upfront about their
abilities and shortcomings.^S29
BAttitudes. We have a very friendly and fun group. We were all respectful of each
others ideas and time.^S30
BGood personalities on the team who became friends.^S31
Tas k confl ict BWe do not have to nag or wait up for anyone; all of us were very open to hearing
each others ideas and willing to learn from and about other disciplines. I think the
lack of ego and willingness to cooperate was extremely helpful in making our
team successful.^S32
BWe often got stuck rehashing the same point over and over. I think this was largely
because one or two team members were hesitant to move forward for various
reasons. This often kept us at a standstill. We worked through it by giving those
team members the space to air their concerns and offer alternative paths forward.
Even if the team disagreed, the concerned team member usually felt comfortable
moving forward since they had a chance to be heard. Occasionally things came to
a head and we had to push forward even without their support, but this at times
strained relationships^S33
BOur team faced the challenge determining the most interesting direction of the
research and bringing everyone on the table, we spent a lot of time to bring
everyone on the same page so that our conversation made sense to all of us.^S34
BKeeping the big picture in mind helped with the former and learning about the
methods and developing trust helped with the latter.^S35
J Environ Stud Sci
interdisciplinary research based on their experience with the
GP, most respondents indicated they were very likely to do so
(M= 4.71, SD = 0.72; 1, very unlikely, 5, very likely). We
interpret this as respondentsperceiving that the costs of inter-
disciplinary research are justified given the benefits received
or that will be received. The most common perceived cost was
the amount of work and time required for the project while
having other graduate program demands (reported by 38% of
respondents). Content analysis revealed two other primary
costs (or barriers): disconnect from dissertation research and
strained relationship with graduate advisor (Table 6).
Importantly, respondents perceived these costs as interrelated
In terms of past assessments, these costs are unique to
the graduate student experience (Morse et al. 2007; Read
and Garcia 2015). Content analysis further revealed three
primary benefits associated with the GP experience:
developing relationships with other early-career re-
searchers, being exposed to and gaining appreciation for
different disciplines, and increased confidence and comfort
moving across and integrating with disciplines.
Participants also referenced benefits such as networking
(S40), expanded epistemology (S41), and increased expo-
sure to other disciplines (S42). These results help to ex-
plain the increased comfort with interdisciplinary research
that participants expressed from pre- to post-GP.
Surprisingly, respondents did not commonly mention
research outcomes (conference presentation, publications,
job talks, technical reports, etc.) as a benefit of the GP,
although teams developed several tangible research out-
comes (Online Resource 2) (Keck et al. 2017). Often, the
success of academic research is gauged by production of
peer-reviewed manuscripts, with IDR/TS groups tending to
produce fewer publications initially but more in the long-
Table 6 Perceived costs and
benefits theme key quotes and
Category Key quote(s)
Graduate program and
project balance
BThe greatest challenge personally was the growing disconnect between my own
academic work and that of the Grad Pursuit topic. The support from my
advisor for my involvement in the Grad Pursuit waned significantly. Also, I
believe I might have been better waiting another year to have allowed for more
clarity regarding my own research topic, which turned in a very different
directionfrom the SESYNC project. I greatly underestimated the time required
and think we could have made some better choices regarding data sources. I do
not think I really overcame these challenges, rather the Grad Pursuit became
sort of a side project, somewhat unrelated, and something rather invisible to
my overall graduate experience.^S36
BMy advisor was encouraging of this experience but maintained the same
demands on my time, so the main challenge was to both meet my advisors
objectives and complete my team responsibilities^S37
BSometimes people got flooded with work, but I think everyone has been open
about their availability and timelines and no one has been negative about
anyone elsescontribution^S38
BI definitely have negative input from my advisor about my SESYNC work
because its not my dissertation, but it is so enjoyable to work on something
with a team as opposed to working alone on my dissertation (said advisor is
frequently MIA).^S39
Networking BThe most useful component of the project was the building of a network of
Expanded epistemology BI think I am much more open minded and able to see limitations of disciplinary
thought much more easily^S41
BI also feel likeI have a better general knowledge of social science techniques and
therefore can have a conversation with social science experts^S42
Career benefits BIt is an eye-opening experience, the exposure and lessons learned from this
pursuit will affect my whole career. I am excited about future interdisciplinary
Time management BI had a hard time managing my time. I spent a considerable amount of time on
this project but was not able to use any of it towards my degree requirements. I
was able to overcome them because my advisor was understanding and
required less of me to graduate.^S44
BIt was very time-intensive, more so than I really had the resources for as a
graduate student^S45
BThis was a lot of freaking work in addition to my dissertation^S46
J Environ Stud Sci
term (Hall et al. 2012). Respondents may not have recog-
nized the potential of their project to yield scholarly pub-
lications, were not yet focused on these outcomes, or sim-
ply felt they were secondary or resulting from more prima-
ry benefits offered by IDR/TS. Nevertheless, each team
reported various research outcomes stemming from their
GP project, which aligns with SESYNCs goal of facilitat-
ing successful collaborations and research outcomes
(Table 7).
Many of the costs and benefits reported here align with
those identified by other assessments, which also describe
benefits associated with training, salary, satisfaction, pub-
lications, knowledge for policy, and future funding poten-
tial (Goring et al. 2014). Potential costs include losses of
credit and academic freedom, lower publication impact,
and time. As with our results, time was the major cost
identified, with networking or relationships with other
early-career researchers cited as a major benefit. GP re-
spondents, being graduate students, identified additional
costs, such as the disconnect from dissertation research
and advisor-advisee relationship, and benefits associated
with increased confidence, comfort, and appreciation for
IDR/TS. These added costs and benefits enrich our previ-
ous understanding of the graduate experience with IDR/TS
and provide additional considerations for the design of
doctoral training programs. They also provide relevant in-
formation for early-career researchers who are interested in
engaging with IDR/TS research.
Our assessment and identification of four emergent themes
highlights areas that current and future training and re-
search programs can use to focus IDR and TS skills devel-
opment, research efficacy, and collaborative experiences.
Reported benefits of the GP include independently
conducting research (without faculty supervision), devel-
oping interpersonal skills applicable to collaborative set-
tings, networking with other early-career researchers, and
exposure to and comfort with IDR/TS. Findings reiterate
the need for, and benefits of, developing effective interper-
sonal communication skills and communication strategies,
which should be viewed as foundational components of
IDR/TS success (Bennett et al. 2018). While respondents
reported being open to different ideas and perspectives, a
main challenge identified was difficulty integrating diver-
gent methods or analytical techniques, which was coupled
with time management challenges and balancing other
graduate responsibilities (Hampton 2017; Morse et al.
The autonomy and relatively unsupervised research envi-
ronment of the GP provided a Blearn-by-doing^approach that
facilitated participantsability to actively propose, develop,
lead, and complete an interdisciplinary S-E project within a
TS setting (Roy et al. 2013). Broadly, our assessment ob-
served that learn-by-doing conditions can be important facil-
itators of successful graduate training. Development of learn-
by-doing frameworks may be an essential expansion and evo-
lution of interdisciplinary graduate training programs
(Biancani et al. 2018). This conclusion reflects the practical,
independent, long-term, and iterative research framework
enacted by SESYNC (Fig. 1).
Uniquely, the model of independent IDR used by the
GP provides students with a safe environment to take
risks, where failure is not detrimental to their graduate
degree. The length of the GP (1218 months) reflected
the nature of most interdisciplinary research collabora-
tions that respondents will encounter throughout their re-
search careers. We are aware of no other graduate training
program that has explicitly developed a setting and expec-
tations that mimic conditions encountered beyond
Table 7 Research outcomes of
the SESYNC Graduate Pursuits
first cohort (as of December
Research outcomes Team 1 Team 2 Team 3 Team 4 Team 5 Team 6
Peer-reviewed manuscript
Accepted 22321
In-review –––––1
In-preparation 1 1 1 ––2
Conferencepresentation 262123
Stakeholder presentation 1–––1
Policy brief/technical report
In-preparation ––––1
Planned 1–––1
Public dataset/database
Available –––1––
In-development –––11
J Environ Stud Sci
graduate school. This approach may serve as a new tem-
plate for future training programs, which tangentially ad-
dresses a recommended best practice of developing a stu-
dents sense of ownership of a research project (Graybill
et al. 2006;Royetal.2013).
Moreover, GP projects required ongoing interaction with
team members, allowing respondents to put their skills to the
test in real time. Such an environment and timeframe, in turn,
facilitated iterative learning of technical skills (computational,
analytical), soft skills (communication, teamwork), and pro-
ject management. At the individual level, our findings stress
the importance of developing these skillsets to foster effective
research, positive interactions, and beneficial experiences
(Blickley et al. 2013; Cannon et al. 1996). While developing
relevant computational and analytical skills has become a fo-
cal aspect of graduate program curricula, equally important
are teamwork facilitation, project management, and interper-
sonal skills training (Hampton et al. 2017; Meyer et al. 2015).
These and other soft skillse.g., interpersonal communica-
tion, listening, and Bplaying well with others^are critical
but often under-nourished elements of training for graduate
students and early-career scientists. Students often learn these
skills ad hoc and through trial-and-error. In not developing
these skills, graduate programs and advisors may be putting
students at a disadvantage as they transition into the S-E pro-
fession as independent researchers and practitioners (Carr
et al. 2018).
Collectively, our findings suggest a need and opportunity
for both program-level elements (long-term, independent, and
iterative) and individual-level elements (technical, interper-
sonal, and management skills development) to become foun-
dational components of interdisciplinary graduate training.
While this is a challenge for conventional graduate programs,
which focus on scientific and technical training, our findings
suggest practical soft skills are crucial to expanding IDR and
TS capacity. In this regard, training programs that are inde-
pendent of a university may be more beneficial, particularly
given their potential to mimic the expectations and responsi-
bilities that students will likely encounter in future, post-
graduate collaborations. Deliberately prioritizing soft skills
training at the same level as technical and analytical skills will
further accelerate and expand interdisciplinary capacity and
the establishment of a diverse research community capable
of addressing the complexity of contemporary S-E issues.
Acknowledgements We thank C. Begg, P. Bitterman, B. Breyer, M.
Burke, K. Ernst, E. Esch, E. Fuller, J. Hoyle, H. Huber-Stearns, S.
Jones, K. Lyon, K. Mango, K. Smith, and A. Tecza for their assistance.
We thank J. Kramer, G. Kyle, and M. Palmer for their support. We also
thank our anonymous reviewers.
Funding information This work was facilitated by the National Socio-
Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) under funding received from
the National Science Foundation DBI-1052875.
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://, which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appro-
priate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the
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... The need for such soft skills has been recognized previously in the conservation sciences (Blickley et al., 2012;Lucas et al., 2017). Requisite skills include communication (e.g., Elliott et al., 2018;Wallen et al., 2019), including through social marketing, in which few practitioners are trained (Robinson et al., 2019); however, graduate programs provide little training in science communication and outreach (Hunnell et al., 2020;Triezenberg et al., 2020). Leadership skills are also crucial (Elliott et al., 2018;Englefield et al., 2019) in achieving conservation goals, but despite their importance in building trust among stakeholders, such competencies are missing from most conservation training (Englefield et al., 2019). ...
... Leadership skills are also crucial (Elliott et al., 2018;Englefield et al., 2019) in achieving conservation goals, but despite their importance in building trust among stakeholders, such competencies are missing from most conservation training (Englefield et al., 2019). Teamwork and collaboration (Chapman et al., 2015;Elliott et al., 2018;Turgeon et al., 2018) with researchers across disciplines (Wallen et al., 2019) and with stakeholders (Turgeon et al., 2018) are also vital. ...
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Despite the promise conservation paleobiology holds for using geohistorical data and insights to solve conservation problems, training in the field typically does not equip students to be competent environmental problem solvers. The intention of this perspective piece is to start a conversation about how we might train conservation paleobiology students better, focusing on the competencies needed to promote deep engagement with “wicked” conservation problems that are difficult to solve. Ongoing conversations regarding design of academic programs in sustainability, a field allied with conservation science, can inform our discussion. The sustainability literature has defined an interrelated set of “core competencies” that go beyond general academic competencies to enable real-world sustainability problem solving: systems thinking, temporal thinking, normative thinking, strategic thinking, and interpersonal competence. Conservation paleobiology is usually taught within geology programs, where students are exposed to systems thinking and temporal thinking. However, the remaining competencies typically are absent or insufficiently developed. To infuse these competencies into conservation paleobiology curricula, we recommend: (1) enhancing connections with sustainability programs and encouraging a more cross-disciplinary approach to training; (2) developing a “menu” of concepts and methodologies for each competence from which to choose; and (3) recognizing that different skills are appropriate at different levels of education and experience. The proposed competency-based framework serves as a shared reference that can be used to develop pedagogies to better prepare conservation paleobiology students to navigate the wicked conservation challenges of our time.
... In turn, individuals who have historically been excluded from the geosciences may begin to envision themselves as a scientist or educator (Walls, 2012). As such, graduate training programs in geosciences should design curricula that build knowledge and skills in cross-disciplinary team science and disciplinary research (Wallen et al., 2019). We highlight the disciplinary research skills here to emphasize that disciplinary knowledge is necessary and valued, but also because evaluation criteria for jobs and funding opportunities for early career scientists still frequently reward qualities of the specialized expert . ...
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Responding to the social and environmental challenges of the Anthropocene requires that we integrate science across multiple perspectives, approaches, and disciplines in equitable and culturally responsive ways. While critical zone (CZ) science has made large strides in bridging natural, social, and education science disciplines, the field has been slower to address the lack of diversity, especially in terms of “race” and ethnicity. This means that CZ science and education do not fully reflect all communities they must serve, and representation and access to careers in the field therefore remain limited to mostly white individuals. Despite best intentions, predominantly white science and education teams frequently consider values such as diversity, equity, or inclusion in later stages of work instead of centering these values as the foundation from the outset. Here, we reflect on how our CZ Collaborative Network Project has both struggled with, and is learning to, authentically center and uphold our values in our own work. Our goal is to normalize the concept that culturally responsive CZ science and education requires intentional trust and relationship building, flexibility, and continued learning. To support our evolving work, we have relied on team science practices, and we offer insights into the strategies and tools that help us with our aspiration to center and integrate our values of diversity, equity, and community into team processes.
... Existing studies have explored issues related to interdisciplinary graduate training, involving the overall model [6], exploring from the perspective of socio-physics how the interdisciplinary academic community operates internally [7], and how to improve or guarantee the quality of interdisciplinary graduate training, such as introducing concepts of standardization [8], team concept [9], etc. At the same time, people have found that the Humanities and science generally does not involve a mutual enrichment but Rather a Overseeing of the fundamental premise of the Humanities. ...
... 4 Given the importance of interdisciplinarity in tackling complex scientific challenges, such as those related to translational science, various initiatives have emerged to foster interdisciplinary thinking by intentionally bringing researchers from different disciplines together to collaborate. [5][6][7][8][9][10][11] Much evidence-based guidance has emerged regarding how to successfully facilitate interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration for such initiatives. 3,[12][13][14] In this study, we evaluated the mHealth Training Institutes (mHTI), one such program designed to develop scientists capable of engaging in and spearheading interdisciplinary efforts to develop effective mobile health (mHealth) solutions. ...
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Background/Objective Growing recognition that collaboration among scientists from diverse disciplines fosters the emergence of solutions to complex scientific problems has spurred initiatives to train researchers to collaborate in interdisciplinary teams. Evaluations of collaboration patterns in these initiatives have tended to be cross-sectional, rather than clarifying temporal changes in collaborative dynamics. Mobile health (mHealth), the science of using mobile, wireless devices to improve health outcomes, is a field whose advancement needs interdisciplinary collaboration. The NIH-supported annual mHealth Training Institute (mHTI) was developed to meet that need and provides a unique testbed. Methods In this study, we applied a longitudinal social network analysis technique to evaluate how well the program fostered communication among the disciplinarily diverse scholars participating in the 2017−2019 mHTIs. By applying separable temporal exponential random graph models, we investigated the formation and persistence of project-based and fun conversations during the mHTIs. Results We found that conversations between scholars of different disciplines were just as likely as conversations within disciplines to form or persist in the 2018 and 2019 mHTI, suggesting that the mHTI achieved its goal of fostering interdisciplinary conversations and could be a model for other team science initiatives; this finding is also true for scholars from different career stages. The presence of team and gender homophily effects in certain years suggested that scholars tended to communicate within the same team or gender. Conclusion Our results demonstrate the usefulness of longitudinal network models in evaluating team science initiatives while clarifying the processes driving interdisciplinary communications during the mHTIs.
... In interdisciplinary research environments, students can easily establish a collaborative research culture among themselves but connecting to external researchers is difficult. One extreme case from the United States revealed that students felt the pressure to work twice as hard as they were in charge of managing an interdisciplinary research project without any institutional recognition or encouragement (Wallen et al., 2019). ...
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We argue that doctoral education in water needs an elevated focus towards educating game changers who can drive innovation and change towards more sustainable futures across academic and non-academic settings. Today's doctoral graduates in water are increasingly employed outside academia, and challenged to understand complex and interconnected systems, to integrate and synthesize information from different disciplines and to lead the way toward increasingly creative, resilient, robust, and socially sustainable solutions. Supervisors are challenged by interdisciplinary research topics and by growing diversity of objectives, too often at the cost of their wellbeing. The need to keep up with the rapid scientific and technological development and floods of big data is pressing. We synthesize key insights from higher education literature and doctoral programs in water research to identify priority actions targeted at four key actor groups: supervisors and supervisees, research group, university, and industry. The actions contribute to appropriate resourcing, enabling an environment for enhanced teamwork practices, and systematic structures for progress. Establishing supporting structures will leverage the much-needed communities of practice involved in co-creating and transforming supervision and education of doctoral students in interdisciplinary water research.
... The ability to conduct research within the bench sciences and engineering is heavily dependent on access to external funds, and graduate and postdoctoral experiences and training to pursue external funds are much more readily available in these areas, than in many social science programs (Kahn et al. 2016). Such opportunities can increase confidence and familiarity with individual and team-based proposals (Wallen et al. 2019). Early career scholars and assistant professors in agricultural and applied economics often face challenges because of a lack of training and mentoring. ...
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Learning to write successful grant applications takes significant time and effort. This paper presents knowledge, expertise, and strategies from experienced grant applicants and grant officers across several disciplines to support early career scholars and first-time grant writers, with particular guidance for interdisciplinary collaboration. Many Agricultural and Applied Economists are invited to participate in interdisciplinary grant applications. It is important to fully understand the types of projects, nature of collaboration, co-investigators’ characteristics, expected contributions, anticipated benefits, and valuation of collaborative research by one’s peers before initiating new opportunities. Leading and participating in interdisciplinary teams also requires mentorship, patience, professionalism, and excellent communication beyond the scientific merits. This paper shares practical insights to guide scholars through the grant-writing processes beginning with nurturing a mindset, preparing for a consistent work ethic, actively seeking advice, identifying targeted programs, matching a programs’ priorities, a step-by-step framework for team creation and management, effectively managing time and pressure, and transforming failure into success.
... What has made a difference in my (short, so far) career has been funding and my peers: funding for uncertain projects and strong peer support to test the edge of science. I have been lucky to participate in programs that provide both of these, including the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center (SESYNC) graduate pursuits (Wallen et al., 2019) and EcoDAS XIII. In our SESYNC project, for example, along with six fellow graduate students from disciplines across anthropology, ecology, economics, and fisheries sciences, we led a research proposal matching our expertise to pursue a question that none of us could address by ourselves . ...
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Differences between the outputs of academic science and those of science policy contribute to a critical science-policy challenge — the inability of academia to sufficiently value either the outputs of the policy process as comparable to academic outputs, or the expertise required to maintain and develop policy. Few colleges and universities in the United States adequately prepare students to become scientists with expertise operating in science-policy spaces. Consequently, most academic scientists lack sufficient training in the policy process, exposure to science diplomacy and capacity to deliver science advice. Science-policy relationships are more than the dichotomised paradox of politicisation of science and the scientisation of politics. Adjustments in how scientists teach, research and engage with policy and policy-makers are necessary to better prepare future generations to address global problems. This article describes currency variances used in these two ecosystems and identifies opportunities to better support science-policy collaborations for more effective research, teaching and service.
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Collaborative problem solving (CPS) has been receiving increasing international attention because much of the complex work in the modern world is performed by teams. However, systematic education and training on CPS is lacking for those entering and participating in the workforce. In 2015, the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a global test of educational progress, documented the low levels of proficiency in CPS. This result not only underscores a significant societal need but also presents an important opportunity for psychological scientists to develop, adopt, and implement theory and empirical research on CPS and to work with educators and policy experts to improve training in CPS. This article offers some directions for psychological science to participate in the growing attention to CPS throughout the world. First, it identifies the existing theoretical frameworks and empirical research that focus on CPS. Second, it provides examples of how recent technologies can automate analyses of CPS processes and assessments so that substantially larger data sets can be analyzed and so students can receive immediate feedback on their CPS performance. Third, it identifies some challenges, debates, and uncertainties in creating an infrastructure for research, education, and training in CPS. CPS education and assessment are expected to improve when supported by larger data sets and theoretical frameworks that are informed by psychological science. This will require interdisciplinary efforts that include expertise in psychological science, education, assessment, intelligent digital technologies, and policy.
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Transdisciplinary (TD) approaches are increasingly used to address complex public health problems such as childhood obesity. Compared to traditional grant-funded scientific projects among established scientists, those designed around a TD, team-based approach yielded greater publication output after three to five years. However, little is known about how a TD focus throughout graduate school training may affect students' publication-related productivity , impact, and collaboration. The objective of this study was to compare the publication patterns of students in traditional versus TD doctoral training programs. Productivity, impact, and collaboration of peer-reviewed publications were compared between traditional (n = 25) and TD (n = 11) students during the first five years of the TD program. Statistical differences were determined by t-test or chi square test at p < 0.05. The publication rate for TD students was 5.2 ± 10.1 (n = 56) compared to 3.6 ± 4.5 per traditional student (n = 82). Publication impact indicators were significantly higher for TD students vs. traditional students: 5.7 times more citations in Google Scholar, 6.1 times more citations in Scopus, 1.3 times higher journal impact factors, and a 1.4 times higher journal h-index. Collaboration indicators showed that publications by TD students had significantly more co-authors (1.3 times), and significantly more disciplines represented among co-authors (1.3 times), but not significantly more organizations represented per publication compared to traditional students. In conclusion, compared to doctoral students in traditional programs, TD students published works that were accepted into higher impact journals, were more frequently cited, and had more cross-disciplinary collaborations.
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Greater understanding of how interdisciplinary research and education evolves is critical for identifying and implementing appropriate programme management strategies. In this paper a programme evaluation framework is presented. It is based on social learning processes (individual learning, interdisciplinary research practices, and interaction between researchers with different backgrounds); social capital outcomes (ability to interact, interpersonal connectivity, and shared understanding); and knowledge and human capital outcomes (new knowledge that integrates multiple research fields). The framework is illustrated on an established case study doctoral programme. Data are collected via mixed qualitative/quantitative methods to reveal several interesting findings about how interdisciplinary research evolves and can be supported. Firstly, different aspects of individual learning seem to contribute to a researcher's ability to interact with researchers from other research fields and work collaboratively. These include learning new material from different research fields, learning how to learn new material and learning how to integrate different material. Secondly, shared interdisciplinary research practices can be identified that may be common to other programmes and support interaction and shared understanding between different researchers. They include clarification and questioning, harnessing differences and setting defensible research boundaries. Thirdly, intensive interaction between researchers from different backgrounds support connectivity between the researchers, further enabling collaborative work. The case study data suggest that social learning processes and social capital outcomes precede new interdisciplinary research findings and are therefore a critical aspect to consider in interdisciplinary programme management.
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Synthesis centers offer a unique amalgam of culture, infrastructure, leadership, and support that facilitates creative discovery on issues crucial to science and society. The combination of logistical support, postdoctoral or senior fellowships, complex data management, informatics and computing capability or expertise, and most of all, opportunity for group discussion and reflection lowers the “activation energy” necessary to promote creativity and the cross-fertilization of ideas. Synthesis centers are explicitly created and operated as community-oriented infrastructure, with scholarly directions driven by the ever-changing interests and needs of an open and inclusive scientific community. The last decade has seen a rise in the number of synthesis centers globally but also the end of core federal funding for several, challenging the sustainability of the infrastructure for this key research strategy. Here, we present the history and rationale for supporting synthesis centers, integrate insights arising from two decades of experience, and explore the challenges and opportunities for long-term sustainability.
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The scale and magnitude of complex and pressing environmental issues lend urgency to the need for integrative and reproducible analysis and synthesis, facilitated by data-intensive research approaches. However, the recent pace of technological change has been such that appropriate skills to accomplish data-intensive research are lacking among environmental scientists, who more than ever need greater access to training and mentorship in computational skills. Here, we provide a roadmap for raising data competencies of current and next-generation environmental researchers by describing the concepts and skills needed for effectively engaging with the heterogeneous, distributed, and rapidly growing volumes of available data. We articulate five key skills: (1) data management and processing, (2) analysis, (3) software skills for science, (4) visualization, and (5) communication methods for collaboration and dissemination. We provide an overview of the current suite of training initiatives available to environmental scientists and models for closing the skill-transfer gap.
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Bennett and colleagues (2016) discerningly point out calls to integrate the social and natural sciences in conservation are “now routine.” Yet, these calls have a limited effect as they continue to go unheeded, although “everyone working in conservation, it seems, recognizes that natural science alone cannot solve conservation problems”. Highlighting the need for more comprehensive integration, the authors present a “framework for a collaborative and integrated conservation science and practice”, which ostensibly contains a set of structures for interdisciplinary team science. However, there is a conspicuous lack of explanation of these structures and, perhaps more importantly, no mention of the corresponding processes that are necessary to facilitate integration. By not detailing these aspects of their framework the authors leave their intent implicit, and miss a valuable opportunity to explicate the important role both structures and processes perform in interdisciplinary research. As other fields adjacent to conservation have come to understand, the synergistic relationship between structures and processes in interdisciplinary team science creates the hospitable environment required for integration and dispels the ad hoc approach of including other domains of knowledge. Acknowledging the importance of structures, processes, and their interactions in interdisciplinary research is essential at this nascent and critical stage of emerging interdisciplinarity in conservation. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
Graduate programs emerging in universities over recent decades support the advanced study of sustainability issues in complex socio-environmental systems. Constructing the problem-scope to address these issues requires graduate students to integrate across disciplines and synthesize the social and natural dimensions of sustainability. Graduate programs that are designed to foster inter-and transdisciplinary research acknowledge the importance of training students to use integrative research approaches. However, this training is not available in all graduate programs that support integrative research, often requiring students to seek external training opportunities. We present perspectives from a group of doctoral students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds conducting integrative research in universities across the United States who participated in a 10-day, National Science Foundation-funded integrative research training workshop to learn and develop socio-environmental research skills. Following the workshop, students conducted a collaborative autoethnographic study to share pre-and postworkshop research experiences and discuss ways to increase integrative research training opportunities. Results reveal that students, regardless of disciplinary background, face common barriers conducting integrative research that include: (1) lack of exposure to epistemological frameworks and team-science skills, (2) challenges to effectively include stakeholder perspectives in his/her research, and (3) variable levels of committee support to conduct integrative research. To overcome the identified barriers and advance integrative research, students recommend how training opportunities can be embedded within existing graduate programs. Students advocate that both internal and external training opportunities are necessary to support the next generation of sustainability scientists.
Many universities have developed large-scale interdisciplinary research centers to address societal challenges and to attract the attention of private philanthropists and federal agencies. However, prior studies have mostly shown that interdisciplinary centers relate to a narrow band of outcomes such as publishing and grants. Therefore, we shift attention to include outcomes that have been the centers mandate to influence − namely outreach to the media and private industry, as well as broader research endeavors and securing external funding. Using data covering Stanford University between 1993 and 2014, we study if being weakly and strongly affiliated with interdisciplinary centers in one year relates to and increases (1) knowledge production (publica- tions, grants and inventions), (2) instruction (numbers of students taught, PhDs and postdocs advised), (3) intellectual prominence (media mentions, awards won and centrality within the larger collaboration network), and (4) the acquisition of various sources of funding in the next year. Our results indicate that interdisciplinary centers select productive faculty and increase their activity on a broad range of outcomes further, and in ways greater than departments and traditional interdisciplinary memberships, such as courtesy and joint appointments.
In the past, the attention paid to interdisciplinary working focused on putting it into practice. As it turns out, this is not without problems. This paper looks closely at the development of interdisciplinary working in a longitudinal case study. Our objective is to provide insight into the evolution of interdisciplinary working in practice. We discuss a European project, known as BRAINPOoL, and deal with knowledge integration, common ground, reflexivity, bridging internal interaction, and project commitment as core aspects of interdisciplinary research. We found that these factors evolved in the case study and we also found important evolutionary conditions: facilitative leadership, professional differences, and willingness to learn and cooperate are important drivers of interdisciplinary research. Key words: interdisciplinary; evolution; knowledge; commitment; facilitative leadership; integration