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Strategy for NIH Funding
Policy Areas With Special Requirements? · Part 3. Write Your Application
Pages of Part 2. Pick and Design a Project
Learn the pros and cons of working on a team and how team science may affect your career particularly if you are an early-stage investigator. Learn about the different types of collaborations, and get advice on making a team effective and avoiding problems.
(This page has advice only.)
As research increasingly taps the expertise of multidisciplinary collaborative groups, more scientists are dealing with the challenges of team science.
While the rewards for working collaboratively abound, several factors can pose difficulties that can stymie the best of intentions. Here we highlight the main areas to consider when thinking about participating in team science and give you some tips for smoothing the way.
Many people report that it's fun and intellectually stimulating to be part of a team.
Before deciding whether being part of a team is right for you, consider these benefits:
Know about possible drawbacks and options for dealing with or mitigating them:
Being independent enough to lead a major award. Reviewers need to believe that you are sufficiently independent to lead a major project. NIH started using the multiple-PI approach to address this problem, but it might not be the best solution for you. For more information, see Should You Consider a Multiple PI Application? in Design a Project in Part 2.
Institutional recognition. Make sure you aren't compromising your chances of advancement. Even institutions that profess to encourage team science may not actually reward it. Before jumping in, find out: Does your institution have ways to recognize and reward a team effort? Will being part of a team compromise your ability to get tenure?
Study section expertise. None of CSR's standing study sections may have all the expertise required to review your multidisciplinary application.
Review the committee rosters online at CSR Study Section Rosters and see Integrated Review Groups.
If you think the expertise may fall short, in your grant application describe your research in terms that people who aren't in the field can understand.
Even after you weigh all the pros and cons, your personal preference is key. You may feel that either a team or solitary approach simply suits you better. Know yourself before moving ahead.
Be aware of the social factors that underlie a well-functioning team.
Even though a science team is work- and goal-oriented, maintaining positive personal relationships is paramount. Once you decide to link in, you'll need to be aware of the social factors that underlie a well-functioning team, such as:
A successful team also needs good leadership, team building, a shared vision, ways to give credit, positive communications, and the ability to resolve conflict.
Below we touch on more concepts underlying teamwork, give you some concrete steps to take, and link to resources with more in-depth information.
Set rules for areas that are ripe for future conflict, such as determining who will be first author.
Probably the most important action a group can take to avoid rude awakenings is to spell out expectations at the outset. Make sure all persons understand their role and responsibilities and agree as a group on expectations.
Because people are more likely to collaborate smoothly when roles and responsibilities are clear, it's a good idea to create a shared vision with a written vision statement. Discuss the vision statement as a group so the whole team sees how the pieces fit together.
Have the group set rules for areas that are ripe for future conflict, such as determining who will be first author, and make sure all parties agree. Planning ahead puts everyone's expectations on the same page.
Here are some processes a group can put in place before embarking on the research:
Effective teams meet regularly to discuss what's going on, including details about their work.
Think about scheduling group activities, which help people see themselves as striving toward a shared goal. These can include weekly lab meetings to talk about results as well as regular journal club meetings and, less frequently, formal seminars by group members.
To promote knowledge sharing, keep the following points in mind.
Encourage constructive criticism. The best collaborations occur when people feel free to speak their minds even when they disagree with their fellow team members.
Build trust. To reach a high level of sharing, group members must show respect for one another. Members need to feel that their colleagues will act for the good of the whole team. People will not share their ideas, knowledge, or data if they feel that others are not being honest or will use shared information against them.
Deal with conflict. Conflict will inevitably arise, and dealing with it is critical.
It helps to think of conflict as a way to expand thinking and a potential source for igniting new research directions. Conversely, ignoring conflict will compromise trust and can undermine the research.
An effective team needs a way for people to bring up sensitive issues as they emerge, so conflict does not fester. Early intervention can help resolve problems before they loom large.
Different perspectives and problem-solving approaches can be a source of creativity but can also generate friction.
If you are thinking about joining or setting up a research team, being open-minded is essential.
Scientists from different disciplines usually have their own perspectives and problem-solving approaches. While these differences can be a source of creativity—even groundbreaking insight—they can also generate friction.
You'll need time and patience to listen to ideas that are at odds with your world view. It helps to be able to see another viewpoint as a horizon-broadening opportunity rather than a barrier you must overcome.
Groups can decide what level of collaboration they desire, depending on the needs of the research and the people involved.
With a moderate level of collaboration, each scientist may work separately on part of a research problem, with results integrated at the end.
At a higher level of collaboration, a team works together to solve problems and share objectives and data. Because they collectively make decisions on the next step, the whole team needs to stay apprised of what's going on.
Working on a team can be both rewarding and challenging. If you decide to go down this path, learn more by talking to colleagues who have been on teams and reading the resources listed in the links below.
Strategy for NIH Funding
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Last Updated March 07, 2012
Last Reviewed September 29, 2011