If you want to get quality research, you want the best researchers, right?

Not necessarily. An advanced trend in science academia is social engineering, and that means building a team that isn't simply the best minds, but has a diverse mix of ethnicity and gender and culture that can also communicate well, are socially sensitive and emotionally engaged with each other. 

Good luck quantifying how "emotionally engaged" you are at review time.

Writing in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, the authors say that scientists should learn from the fields of business and education, where researchers have studied how teams work for years. They may have a point, but it won't be obvious. American business is increasingly uncompetitive globally, the United States manufactures almost nothing and 'corporations' are a dirty word, and education is termed 'dismal' every other month, so American science, which leads the world in science output and in Nobel prizes, will be hard pressed to be convinced it should desire to be less successful.



The influence of team member diversity and interpersonal skills on team functioning and communication, all of which influence research outcomes. Each of the five major categories of individual team member and entire team traits is strongly tied to all others; therefore, all possible arrows among categories are not depicted for the sake of clarity. DOI:10.1890/130001

"In other words, better science gets done when people put their egos aside, when they like each other, when they come from a wide range of backgrounds, and when they know how to effectively talk to each other," says lead author Kendra Cheruvelil, an associate professor in  Michigan State University's Lyman Briggs College and Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. "We thought it was time to take what has been learned from studying business and education teams and apply it to science teams."

So how might this happen? The authors recommend that future scientists can learn the ways of collaboration when they start learning the intricacies of scientific research – in graduate school.

"Students need to learn how to work with others in order to produce high-impact research products," the team writes. "One way to meet this need is for graduate programs to offer seminars, workshops or entire courses on how to effectively collaborate in science."

The researchers also suggest that formal team-building exercises that focus on developing the skills needed to be a good team member and leader, such as conflict negotiation, effective communication, and time management, can promote collaborative scientific research.


Citation: Kendra S Cheruvelil, Patricia A Soranno, Kathleen C Weathers, Paul C Hanson, Simon J Goring, Christopher T Filstrup, Emily K Read, 'Creating and maintaining high-performing collaborative research teams: the importance of diversity and interpersonal skills', Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 12: 31–38, DOI:10.1890/130001