Fostering Team Research in the Social Sciences

2018-04-02T17:40:21+00:00 March 25th, 2015|

More than 30 scholars from across the greater Washington region participated in a special workshop in late January on “Managing Team Science,” hosted by the Metropolitan Institute (MI) at Virginia Tech at the Virginia Tech Research Center in Arlington, thanks to generous support from both, as well as from the Institute for the Study of Culture and the Environment. The program examined various aspects of managing multi-year, multi-discipline projects in the social sciences and offered an opportunity for academicians to learn from experienced scholars about this important dimension of research administration.

“The goal of the workshop was to help researchers and other academics think about fostering team research in social sciences,” said Susan Sterett, director of the Metropolitan Institute and professor with the Virginia Tech Center for Public Administration and Policy. “Institutions and funding agencies are increasingly looking for research that requires multiple scholars from multiple disciplines. Much of what we know is from the natural and physical sciences, and collaboration concerning medical issues. The workshop was a wonderful opportunity for us to explore the challenges of doing this well and how we can better engage one another in support of discovery and learning.”

Through presentations, panel discussions and small group conversations, participants considered several aspects of team management. The program began with a presentation by Shalini Misra, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech Urban Affairs and Planning, on the topic, “The Ecology of Team Science: Contextual influences on Interdisciplinary Collaboration.” “My talk discussed the antecedents, processes and outcomes of effective or successful collaborations,” said Misra, “with a focus on the contextual factors that influence the success of interdisciplinary teams.”

A panel discussion, “Central concepts and challenges in building teams: Trust and Leadership,” explored the questions, What does leadership mean in a group of equals? How do people take a leadership role? How does one build trust across disciplines? What makes it work? What makes it difficult? The panel was moderated by Ariel Ahram, Assistant Professor, Virginia Tech Government and International Affairs and speakers included Kim Blankenship, Sociology/Center on Health, Risk and Society, American University; and Randy Murch, Research Program Development, Virginia Tech.

A second panel concluded the day’s program. Entitled “Practicing Team Science: Organizational Skills, Communication Strategies and Institutional Resources,” Questions examined included, How do you coordinate a team? How do you make tasks manageable, and ensure they are accomplished? What communication strategies work? How do you leverage institutional resources? Panelists included Jennifer Carter, Continuing Education: Project Management, Virginia Tech, and Danielle Rudes, Center for Advancing Correctional Excellence, George Mason University, and Chris Zobel, Business Information Technology, Virginia Tech.

Part of the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs, the Metropolitan Institute conducts basic and applied research on the dynamics of metropolitan complexities, such as demographics, environment, technology, design, transportation, and governance. With most of the globe’s population moving to urbanized areas, the major public policy challenges of this century will require a deeper understanding of how metropolitan complexities play out across multiple jurisdictions, locations, infrastructures, and stakeholders. For more information about the institutes’ ongoing research, visit www.mi.vt.edu.