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The Science of Team Science conference: 2016

This year’s SciTS conference took place in Phoenix, AZ. Given that I live in Maryland and we were nearing the end of over a month of rain, visiting the desert was a lovely break from the Mid-Atlantic’s non-stop impression of the Pacific North West. The conference opened with keynote speaker and ASU President, Michael Crow, who emphasized, “we [humans] have always been explorers” (emphasis my own) but that at best we are “toddlers”. I’m reminded of other speakers I’ve heard in the many conferences I’ve attended over the years who have warned us to be wary of just how much we think we know. We’ve always been curious as a species, yes; but never assume we know all. After all, we’re quite young as a species in the timeline of our planet. Neil deGrasse Tyson does a fantastic job illustrating our tiny, recent entry into the cosmic calendar in his Cosmos series.

Kara Hall, a long-time leader in the field of the science of team science, brought forward some themes for the 2016 conference; the need for an agreed upon lexicon (hey, that sounds familiar…), increasing scientific rigor, considering a broader range of topics, training mechanisms, among several others, typical of a field at this early stage (this was the 6th annual SciTS conference). That naturally led to the questions: should we form something more formal? A professional organization? Increased formal processes, infrastructure, and strategic planning? This was also reflected in the daily brief surveys sent to meeting participants. Sounds like there are some interesting developments on the horizon!

There were presentations on the use of technology to encourage and drive forward virtual collaboration, with examples at times literally borrowed from science fiction, like Mezzanine by Oblong, which allows presenters to move through screens of data, visualizations, documents, and applications with a Wii-esque wand, inspired by the technology in Minority Report (minus the pre-cogs and arrests for crimes not yet committed).

From there the conference took a turn towards inclusion and diversity, driving home the point that if we want to succeed, the idea of “hiring the best person for the job” isn’t enough. We must be including as diverse voices as we can- only then will we have accomplished hiring the best. We should also be aware of our biases, though this can prove to be quite challenging, as biases as a rule tend to be unconscious things that are often unknown to us.

Being interdisciplinary isn’t enough. To truly have a cohesive team, leadership should be strong but not overbearing. If every group member does not have a chance to contribute or speak in a meeting, for example, is the team exploring all the options they should? Do they have everyone on board? What are they missing? Is it really collaborative?


Many excellent questions, eye-opening presentations, and good conversations. To download presentations go to: The poster on CitSciBio is here: You can check out a storify of the conference here:


See you next year in Florida!

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