Paper Session: The What and How of Team Science Writing and Publications

Tuesday, August 2, 2022
3:00 PM - 4:15 PM ET

Talking and Walking Interdisciplinarity Across Fields

Kevin Kniffin

Abstract: Interdisciplinary research is commonly celebrated and encouraged for its ability to address emergent problems but little is known about the people who conduct such work since career-level data has not been broadly accessible. Extant theoretical frameworks generate competing predictions that (a) interdisciplinarians will be rewarded for brokering disparate areas of knowledge or (b) interdisciplinarians will be penalized for deviating from disciplinary recipes. We draw upon novel linkages of two large datasets covering more than one million dissertations from 1986 through 2016 from the United States and show that (1) interdisciplinary dissertations have become consistently more common across the full enterprise of research and (2) interdisciplinary dissertators have tended to experience a persistent penalty when considering salaries after earning the PhD. More specifically, we find that the distance of topics that are combined in interdisciplinary projects is variably important across fields. For example, fields that tend to be relatively higher paying tend to penalize interdisciplinarians more whereas fields that tend to be relatively lower paying tend to be in the minority of fields that reward interdisciplinarians. Our findings contribute to theories regarding the experience of boundary-spanning brokers across a wide range of organizational environments.

Novel Approach for Tracking Multidisciplinary Research Productivity Using Institutional Databases

Katia Noyes

Abstract: In the 21st century, interest in large-scale multi-disciplinary team (MDT) projects have grown sharply, evident by the steep growth in cross-disciplinary journals, requests for proposals, and research networks. The main motivation behind MDT research is increasing complexity of scientific problems, emphasis on research translation to practice and need for faster knowledge dissemination. MDT cores have been essential in the functioning of all clinical and translational science institutes. The objective of the study is to (i) establish methodology and (ii) pilot a strategy to assess MDT productivity across different decanal units. Using data from an institutional faculty profile database (2018-2021) and grant tracking system (2015-2021), we estimated a proportion of faculty and units engaged in MDT. Multidisciplinary collaborations were defined based on number of co-authors/co-investigators from different departments and academic disciplines. Our study has identified a significant increase in the prevalence of MDT collaborations across investigators as well as academic units since 2015. We demonstrated that the extend of MDT collaboration varied significantly by faculty appointment and seniority. On average, manuscripts by full professors involved 3.3 different scientific fields vs 3.1 for associate vs 2.7 for assistant, p<.01 (Figure 1). Tenure track professors collaborated with more organizations (3.6 vs 2.4, p<.01) and more fields (3.2 vs 2.6, p<.01) compared to clinical/non-tenure track faculty. Overall multidisciplinary grants constituted 24% of all grants with the relative proportion of multidisciplinary proposal significantly increasing over the last five years. We demonstrated a significant association between the sources of extramural funding and the multidisciplinary nature of submitted proposals, with a significantly higher proportion of the NIH and NSF proposals including investigators from various academic units compared to local and private funding. Decanal units that submitted multidisciplinary proposals received higher overall funding ($2.7M vs $.6M, p>.05) and secured larger grants ($590K vs $356K, p<.01) compared to units that only submitted mono-disciplinary proposals (Figure 2).Our findings demonstrate one of many benefits of MDT collaboration in research - ability to attract greater amount of extramural funding from the most prestigious sources reflected in national rankings of programs and academic institutions. Broad national dissemination of this approach across other CTSA hubs could provide a standard metric for comparing teamwork productivity across different programs, facilitate our ability to assess effectiveness of various team-training activities, and improve quality and value in cross- and multi-disciplinary research. Given that multidisciplinary grants generate larger revenue, more research is needed to remove barriers to collaborations across different fields.

Lost in Translations: Writing Assumptions and Practices in Interdisciplinary Life Sciences

Sara Doody

Abstract: While key to the success of team science efforts, interdisciplinary communication is demanding in part because disciplinary communication practices diverge in meaningful ways. Explorations of communication in team science settings has largely focused on interpersonal communication with the aim of better facilitating the practice of team science. Fewer discussions have explored arguably the most valuable currency in academe: writing. Writing is deeply entrenched in disciplinary practices‚Äîwhat counts as good writing in biology is different from good writing in physics, for instance. Further, knowledge of what makes writing acceptable is tacit: experts grow so familiar with the conventions of their field that the rules of acceptable written communication become common sense and taken-for-granted. This makes it difficult for even established experts to articulate the rules of good writing in their discipline. The normalization of writing conventions is especially notable in contexts where the hidden rules of multiple disciplines interact, sometimes in contentious and unproductive ways; that is, in interdisciplinary team science collaborations. While meaningful for professionals engaged in team science, the ability to write research for multiple disciplines is especially critical for emerging interdisciplinary scientists faced with navigating several different kinds of expectations around writing: doctoral students in interdisciplinary research program.This paper explores how disciplinary writing norms interact in interdisciplinary life sciences doctoral programs and traces the unwritten rules and practices governing successful writing in interdisciplinary research programs.  Using a case study approach involving semi-structured interviews with five interdisciplinary doctoral students and a narrative inquiry approach to data analysis, I argue that writers must navigate competing practices at work when producing interdisciplinary writing or risk their research getting "lost in translation." Interviews suggest that interdisciplinary writing is thought to be a process of translating and simplifying complex science phenomena. Yet, in probing the writing activities of interdisciplinary students, data suggest that advice about translating and simplifying occlude complex epistemic processes that writers must navigate to produce writing that bridges disciplinary expectations. Findings also suggest that writing in interdisciplinary programs requires a particular kind mentorship that includes consciousness-raising activities and discussions about the hidden rules of interdisciplinary writing. This study not only advances discussions about interdisciplinary communication in SciTS by focusing on writing as a key site of knowledge negotiation in team science collaborations, it also contributes practical and research-informed strategies for engaging in and mentoring interdisciplinary writing.