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Learn More: Weighing Collaboration Incentives and Challenges for Early Career Investigators

Quotes from this page are from a video transcript of experts presenting their viewpoint on team science incentives and challenges for an Early Career Investigator to keep in mind.

Additional expert information is available in The Science of Team Science (Module 1, Research Resource) and the Module 1 Library.

How do individuals benefit from participating in team science?

You'll have access to more information because you'll work with people who have different knowledge bases.

"So one of the great benefits of team science is that it allows an individual to transcend their own limitations to seek only a narrow slice of science, to seeing a much broader piece of science. By [being] able to draw on more new raw material, they're able to make more combinations and potentially out of those combinations, something will hit big.

So team science is really about how do you access more knowledge and how to you put it together in new and different ways to create the next big innovation, in a way that the individual scientist acting on their own, seeing only their myopic part of the scientific world, can no longer do."

—Brian Uzzi, PhD, Northwestern University: Management and Organizations, Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences and Co-Director, Northwestern Institute on Complex Systems

What challenges do junior investigators face?

It may be difficult to prioritize personal accomplishments with effective collaboration.

"There’s been a culture change that’s happening that I think [has] been impacting junior faculty [differently] across the country and probably across the world. So the traditional concern for junior faculty members engaging in a team science endeavor is that the question of are they getting enough publications, are they getting enough first author publications, are they having an opportunity to lead subsequent grants, is the burden of additional meetings that need to happen creating a barrier, and I think part of that depends on the degree of sophistication and sort of vision that the context that they’re in has, that the institution that they’re in has, and I think that relates for instance to tenure promotion policies the institution has.

If the tenure and promotion policies articulate the importance of these types of endeavors, that the fact that interdisciplinary science is necessary, important for not only achieving the science, but the institution getting the funding that they want, [then] I think that is then supportive of the junior faculty and moving through. There are much more traditional environments that are not taking into consideration the role the junior faculty are playing, the scientific advances they are making, and they’re not coming up with ways to creatively review the contribution that’s being made and they’re relying on traditional publication counts or authorship order and these sorts of things.

Now, although I talk about the number of publications, what we’re seeing is that as these team science endeavors mature in that people are understanding better how to do these, how to coordinate the team science endeavors, we’re seeing a quicker trajectory with publications, we’re seeing more publications.

I think this is also a cultural thing. The more time that passes, and the more the broader scientific community recognizes the importance of interdisciplinary science, and that’s not to say that uni-disciplinary science is not important because it absolutely is, you need a mature scientific field in order to then merge it with another, so to speak. But that until there are adequate venues for this interdisciplinary work to be published in, then that’s going to be a barrier for those who are working in these kind of environments, to be able to publish their work.

So in some scientific areas, where they’re more mature or more cutting edge, or sort of the fields themselves have recognized the importance of the interdisciplinary nature, then there’s more publication venues, that’s allowing the junior faculty to get more publications out.

There’s also structural things, for instance, from the agency perspective. When we construct these large center initiatives, there’s a deliberate effort to allow not only training for junior faculty but also mechanisms for junior faculty to be getting pilot funding, so to be getting grants within the context of this, which is a specific effort on our part to facilitate their success."

—Kara Hall, PhD, National Institutes of Health: National Cancer Institute, Program Officer, Behavioral Research Program

What is the current institutional atmosphere like for junior investigators who are interested in team science?

The incentive structure at many institutions primarily rewards individual accomplishments.

"At the institutional level, the incentive structure hasn’t caught up with the development of collaboration in team science. So that the criteria by which people’s work is assessed and evaluated doesn’t necessarily reward working in teams in the way in which individual scientists need it so they can be confident at that pursuing their individual career advancement and pursuing team science activities are not at odds with one another.

I think we hear a lot from the younger scientists that they’re really torn. Because they feel they’re in a kind of double-bind situation in which they can’t possibly please both sets of expectations that are imposed upon them."

—Howard Gadlin, PhD, National Institutes of Health: Ombudsman and Director of the Center for Cooperative Resolution; Authoring Team Science Field Guide with Michelle Bennett

What are the incentive differences for junior and senior investigators?

The potential for innovation is greater on an interdisciplinary team due to diverse perspectives and ideas

"What I would say [is that] for senior investigators, the incentives are quite enormous. The possibility of working with other colleagues who are experts in different fields or associated fields, the ability to work together to generate results or achieve accomplishments that there’s no way you could do alone in your own laboratory or even with a smaller set of people that you work with. The team setting provides resources, expertise, access to I think approaches that you wouldn’t be able to do very easily otherwise.

And the outcome and the impact of the results from those approaches or studies can really have a lot of impact, they can really begin to make a difference in people’s lives, or in how science gets done, the different things that can come out of it such as in areas of drug development or personalized medicine that are so very important and that are really interesting and high profile issues today.

When we talk about the junior investigator, I don’t think that some of the incentives are so different. In terms of the possibility, but I think there are many more challenges associated with trying to incentivize team science at the junior level.

And I guess what I mean by that is that at a junior level, one is faced with having to secure tenure in X number of years. So they’re pretty much put on a clock and then they set the timer when you walk in the door and by X number of years later typically four or five, you really need to start thinking about what paradigms have I shifted? How have I demonstrated my independence? How have I contributed to my research field? How many publications do I have? How many trainees have I trained? It’s very self-focused, very individualized, especially in the biomedical sciences.

And so, when one comes to the culmination of the tenure process, how are they going to be evaluated for tenure? And if there are no provisions for evaluating that individual for their contributions to a team, whether they’ve set up a team, participated in a team, it makes it very difficult to encourage them to participate in a team when they have to shift a paradigm in their own field or be recognized internationally for their own independent work."

—L. Michelle Bennett, PhD, National Institutes of Health: Deputy Director, Center for Cancer Research, National Cancer Institute; Authoring Team Science Field Guide with Howard Gadlin