A Lot to Deal with on One Plate!

This post is part of an on going series examining and reflecting on how to work as an international team on a transdisciplinary research project.

When working on an international, transdisciplinary research project, even a simple meeting with your PhD committee members is not so simple. Finding a time slot that fits 3 people in two different time zones (8 hours difference) can seem an impossible challenge, when all the additional obligations your committee members (who are also the PIs)1)Principal Investigators have are added in (teaching, research, conferences,…). Ultimately, an acceptance of unconventional working hours is critical if you want transatlantic Skype meetings to happen.

Safe is good for sidewalks and swimming pools. Life requires risks if we are to get anywhere.

-Simon Sinek
One PI called me and we had a fruitful conversation. The second PI was supposed to join later, which he did. Or better to say he tried. Our Skype meeting in the 21st century ended up the two PIs skyping with each other and me on the landline phone connected to them. Not as planned – but it worked.

Research projects of a transdisciplinary character

Being part of a research project that spans over several countries is most of all exciting but undoubtedly also challenging. Communication is a critical but complex skill that can be improved but also be complicated by technical inventions. Without it though, projects like ours wouldn´t be possible.

We have already identified and shared some challenges specific to the EFCA project (see the previous Blog entry on the Statussymposium in Hannover). Apart from these, which we anticipated, there will certainly be more to come. What we definitely have had to deal with already is the difficulty to keep everybody on the same page, despite using the key competency framework as the universal foundation, as well as general house-keeping tasks like keeping minutes at meetings, etc. While we, the PhDs, concentrate almost exclusively on the EFCA project, the PIs have several projects going on at the same time which leads to time shortages to dedicate the desired time to each project. This creates risks of cutting into time which should be outside of work.2)Joern Fischer initiated a pertinent discussion of this issue at Leuphana.

Self-care was something we had already talked about during our first field visit at ASU in November. Knowing the theory is a start3)For example: Sinek, Simon (2016) Together is Better. A Little Book of Inspiration. Portfolio Penguin., applying it… well, the short scene at beginning might have demonstrated that there is often a knowledge-to-action-gap. Applying self-care must not fall too short though if we want to conduct this project successfully together. While everybody should take care of her-/his own needs, a transdisciplinary research group also has to look after each other. Meetings in a more informal frame which we often did in Arizona helped us to keep the spirit high, even with the end-of-the-semester-stress and focus-group-preparation.

To conclude, the transdisciplinary, international research path is full of challenges (though finishing the plate pictured above wasn´t one of them – keyword: teamwork). Consider the quote at the beginning: risks need to be taken and challenges seen as opportunities to grow. Because we want to go far indeed.

Theres Konrad

Theres Konrad has her background in Cultural and Social Anthropology from the Universities of Vienna and Lille and found a unification of her interests in the International Master Programme Environmental Studies and Sustainability Science (LUMES) at Lund University, from where she graduated 2015. Within the EFCA project her focus lies on the processes of competence acquisition in innovative teaching and learning settings of sustainability science programmes.

References   [ + ]

1. Principal Investigators
2. Joern Fischer initiated a pertinent discussion of this issue at Leuphana
3. For example: Sinek, Simon (2016) Together is Better. A Little Book of Inspiration. Portfolio Penguin.

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