Director’s Update – October 2014

Every month, the CTSI Stories Blog will post excerpts from ongoing conversations with the institute’s co-directors.

Below, Harriet Kitzman discusses team science in the academic medical center, and how the Collaborations & Services pillar of the CTSI is supporting research collaboration.

Tell me a little bit more about team science in an academic medical center.HarrietKitzman2

There has been a transformation in the scientific community about the importance of teams in the development of solutions to our most complex problems. However, in many ways, the culture of academic medical (and health science) centers are yet to be aligned structurally with the ever increasing functions of teams.  We still are preparing through education and research training, for the self-sufficient independent scientist role. Similarly, academic reward systems have historically centered on the independent contributions of the scientist, many of which are difficult to identify in fully functioning collaborative science teams where novel ideas and approaches come not from individuals but from the synergy that emerges when dynamic ideas are integrated.

What is of interest is that teams in science are growing, often with little regard for the science of the process of doing team science. The science of team science (which is concerned with understanding and managing environmental conditions that support or hinders team science initiatives), is in many ways in its infancy. Although there is a long history of the study of small groups in the social sciences, and developing teams in business and health services, there is limited utilization of what has been learned in those fields to team science in academic health centers. More importantly, despite our understanding of the frequency with which fledgling teams fail, there are few projects that are focused on trying to understand why some fail and others are productive and sustained – the science of team science. The emerging complexity of teams will require us to focus on the functional aspects as well as the outcomes.  If we are to succeed, we will need to uncover the dynamic organizational patterns, socio-political climate, individual and groups functions that drive successful collaboration in team science. Our studies in the science of team science will need to be multi-level and utilize novel as well as accepted methods.

So understanding team science is the first step. What DO we know about it? 

Well, there was one study recently — Steve Dewhurst wrote about it in the Democrat & Chronicle — that talked about how the best team science combines novelty and conventionality. So a successful scientific team often is one that uses conventionally-accepted methods, but does so across disciplines to solve a new problem.

We already have a few programs in place that promote team science — the funding for the Incubator Program, for example, has always had a requirement for team science. Now, we’re studying some of the other things that go on here. For example, the SRB Data Blitz! — Tom Fogg has been the one developing that — we’re trying to measure outcomes of those events so we can do things systematically and determine what works.

How about the “Services” part of the “Collaborations & Services” pillar?

We are retaining services such as the Research Navigator and other programs that already exist within the CTSI under this pillar, and we’re working to enhance those services through other channels. Because regardless of how many navigators we have here, there needs to be something that directs researchers to the program, and the researchers themselves need to know that it can provide them with some assistance.

Going back to that study that Steve Dewhurst wrote about, an interaction with the CTSI is often a more formal or conventional type of relationship. It’s a contrast to the informal structures and interactions — the conversations that researchers have with others in different fields that they don’t always interact with — that really drives the novelty portion of team science. So while the Research Navigator Program gets the questions answered, it’s the more informal connections that actually create those new questions.

Previous director’s updates:

September 2014 – Karl Kieburtz talks about why the CTSI is beefing up its informatics team.
August 2014 – Nana Bennett discusses the new Population Health pillar.
July 2014 – Harriet Kitzman offers her takeaways from the Mini Summer Research Institute.
June 2014 – Karl Kieburtz gives an overview of the CTSI’s six pillars.

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