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Team Science Learning Module

Acknowledgement

The Team Science Learning Module was created in partnership with the integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV), University of Virginia’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Environmental Research Institute. iTHRIV is funded by the National Center for Advancing Translational Science of the National Institutes of Health Awards UL1TR003015/ KL2TR003016.  Contents of this website do not necessarily reflect the views of the institution and/or the National Institutes of Health.

Special thanks to Belinda E. Hernandez, M.Ed., UVA School of Education and Human Development for researching and writing module content.   We are also thankful to the researchers, editors, and evaluators who donated their time, expertise, and knowledge to this project.  

Citation and Copyright

Please cite using the following format:
integrated Translational Health Research Institute of Virginia (iTHRIV). (n.d.). Team Science Learning Module.  https://guides.hsl.virginia.edu/teamscience/

CC BY-NC
This license allows reusers to distribute, remix, adapt, and build upon the material in any medium or format for noncommercial purposes only, and only so long as attribution is given to the creator. 

It includes the following elements:
BY  – Credit must be given to the creator
NC  – Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted

Organizational Structures

In addition to the individual skills of members and underlying team dynamics necessary for team success, teams exist in a larger systemic context of organizations/institutions and technologies that are influenced by social and political factors. Teams typically function within complex organizations (e.g., universities, research centers, institutes) and each discipline has its own social and political culture. These organizations and social/political cultures can influence the way individuals make decisions about whether they participate in transdisciplinary work (National Research Council, 2015). As such, it is essential to explore how the organizational structure and social/political context of a team can incentivize teams to participate in team science!

There are various organizational elements that can incentivize or disincentivize individuals to participate in team science, including the system of institutional incentives (e.g., recognition and reward, promotion and tenure, funding) and other organizational policies and practices that may affect individuals' ability to interact with other experts and teams (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019).

  • Recognition and Reward: The development of recognition and reward processes that encourage collaboration across disciplines is crucially important to enable team science efforts. Team science can be challenging to participate in as the current academic culture generally rewards independent work. Organizations have difficulty recognizing and rewarding individuals for achievements that were accomplished among several people. Researchers' are often recognized and rewarded for the number of proposals and grant dollars obtained, as well as the number of first-author papers in high-impact journals (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Changing how sharing and giving credit is conducted is vital to motivating individuals to collaborate with others and participate in team science (Bennett et al., 2018). Additionally, the scientific field is beginning to recognize the need for multiple expertise to advance scientific efforts and knowledge. Thus, trends towards providing opportunities for transdisciplinary work and rewarding collaboration are progressing, but are still in great demand within certain organizations (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on recognition and reward). 

  • Promotion and Tenure (P&T): The evaluation process for promotion and tenure is also based on independent work. It may be particularly challenging to incentivize graduate students, post-docs, and junior investigators to engage in collaborative work when the evaluation process for promotion and tenure often rewards individual accomplishments (Bennett & Gadlin, 2012). Thus, there is a monumental need for organizations to create a promotion structure that supports the career development of researchers who are participating in transdisciplinary teams. Changing how scientists reward other scientists is crucial to changing the culture of academia and to support convergence. There must be a change in the criteria that are utilized to evaluate investigators so that it rewards researchers for conducting trans-disciplinary research (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on P&T).  

  • Funding within Departments: The allocation of research grant funding and contact expenditures (including the associated reimbursement of costs) can cause strain between academic departments and organizations, and in turn, incentivize or disincentivize investigators to engage in team science. Departments may also be penalized when investigators want to collaborate on projects that are housed within different organizations (e.g., if a department receives all indirect funds associated with an investigators’ grants) which can deter individuals from collaborating with researchers outside of their department. To minimize this from occurring, researchers can divide funds and expenditures between organizations (see Bennett et al., 2018 for more on funding).

Societal/Political Structure

Society is constantly faced with complex problems which scientists are increasingly tasked to solve. There has been increasing awareness of the importance of taking a team-based approach to solving these systemic problems via team science (Love et al., 2021). Oftentimes, these societal problems are global and require large-scale international collaborations in order to be solved (e.g., COVID-19). Yet, in order to conduct transdisciplinary scientific research, state and national policies must be taken into consideration. As mentioned in Love et al. (2021), “At state and national policymaking levels, the enactment of protocols for ensuring ethical scientific conduct, adjudicating claims to intellectual property ownership and licensing, and protecting animal and human subjects' rights provide the legal foundations for conducting effective large-scale transdisciplinary collaborations. 72, 127.” Thus, there is currently a gradual shift towards perceiving team science as the paradigm to conducting scientific research, and multisystemic considerations are being taken on how to produce this type of work that range from national agencies (e.g., funding proposals and publishing) to politics (e.g., international policies).  

  • Funders: Peer reviewers with expertise in a particular discipline may not always be fully-equipped to accurately evaluate convergent research proposals. Therefore, transdisciplinary projects require review by individuals across several disciplines of study. Thus, it is necessary to have reviewers with corresponding expertise on transdisciplinary proposals and to train reviewers on how to examine convergence projects (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Additionally, there must be a better understanding of how federal agencies can support convergence projects. Funding institutions can develop training resources for applicants on how to create transdisciplinary proposals. (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). Public agencies and private foundations can extend their funding deadlines to provide individuals participating in team science ample time to cultivate positive relationships and trust with each other, which is important for the success of the project. 

  • Publications: Since publications are a metric of success in academia, it is essential to consider that when working on a team, everyone’s contribution is important and reviewers should reward the full authorship list rather than the first or last author of a publication. Journals should create a peer review process and review criteria that integrate multiple scientific disciplines (e.g., engineering, medicine, and social and behavioral sciences) (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). 

  • International Policy: There must be international policies that facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and allow exchanges of scientific information. 

Resources

  • System of Institutional Incentives

    • Tips for success

      • Restructuring system of institutional incentives: Institutions must revise and restructure their policies for collaboration to eliminate incentives for independent work. Promotion and tenure policies must reflect greater recognition for collaborative and trans-disciplinary work (Stokols et al., 2008). Considering that team science projects require a great deal of time allocated to group meetings, organizations must provide organizational support, including shared facilities, enabling competition in conjunction with collaboration, promote/address financial incentives for collaborative research and provide credit to members who engage in team science work (Bennett et al., 2018). The criteria for success should also be revised so that it encompasses measures of transdisciplinary work when reviewing grant proposals and funding projects, reviewing manuscripts and publications, as well as promotion and tenure. Individuals can ask their departments to outline how they would be evaluated and recognized for team science work. Organizations must revisit and revise these metrics to support team science and reward collaborative achievements.  Furthermore, organizations should be recognized and evaluated for their convergence efforts (e.g., departmental rankings, university evaluations) (Bennett et al., 2018). However, organizations that are encouraging team science or collaboration must enact policies and procedures that will recognize and reward convergent efforts. 

        • Pre-tenure agreements and P&T criteria can require convergent research 

        • Universities can offer joint appointments 

      • Merging departments & seed grants: Some universities have promoted team science by merging disciplinary departments to support transdisciplinary teams and providing seed grants. Seed grants may facilitate flexibility in the types of projects that investigators can pursue, while also supporting proposals with a focus on transdisciplinary collaboration. 

      • Creating a team science point of contact: An increasing trend of universities have created roles that support collaborative research. Although the titles and responsibilities vary across institutions (e.g., research development professionals, boundary spanners, or laboratory managers), the individuals in these positions are vital to establishing connections across organizations to connect researchers with relevant interests who may be potential collaborators. Individuals in these roles may also be the primary point of contact for teams, help locate funding opportunities, and design documents (e..g, agreements, proposals) delineating each members’ role in team science and the benefit of utilizing a team-based approach to addressing a problem (see Bennett et al., 2018 for additional information). 

      • What can individuals do? In the event that an organization cannot support team science efforts, one can take steps to encourage this type of work. Agreements between teams can be developed to delineate how credit will be attributed to team members working on collaborative projects. Team members should be mindful of whom the credit and recognition would be most beneficial to. Senior researchers can allow junior team members to have greater recognition through authorship opportunities and presentations/talks. Teams must also clearly define how authorship will be attributed and everyones’ responsibilities (see Bennett et al., 2018 for additional information).

      • Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams: The National Institutes of Health offers a Funding Opportunity Announcement (FOA, PAR-17-340) for a RM1 grant entitled “Collaborative Program Grant for Multidisciplinary Teams.” This grant was designed to facilitate a transdisciplinary research team to address research questions beyond the abilities of one or two investigators, ultimately resulting in a team science initiative (see Bennett et al., 2018 for additional information).

    • Additional Readings

References

  • Love, H. B., Cross, J. E., Fosdick, B., Crooks, K. R., VandeWoude, S., & Fisher, E. R. (2021). Interpersonal relationships drive successful team science: an exemplary case-based study. Humanities and Social Sciences Communications, 8(1), 1-10. 
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Fostering the culture of convergence in research: Proceedings of a workshop.

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