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.

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.

Introducing: Aaron Redman

I joined Leuphana University in September 2016 as part of the Educating Future Change Agents (EFCA) project. I’d like to take a moment to introduce myself. You’ll hear from the rest of the team in the coming months, don’t you worry.

Some interesting facts about me:

  • I grew up a couple blocks from one of the partner universities for EFCA, Arizona State (ASU).
  • I dreamed of being an astronaut up until I was…in college.
  • While in Peace Corps El Salvador I ate raccoon, squirrel and iguana while also discovering that the work of creating a sustainable world was my calling.
  • I co-founded a small business which produced a re-usable produce bag called, FAVE Bags with an innovative production system which enabled over 20 poor rural women in El Salvador to work out of their homes earning money to support their families.
  • I was awarded a research grant based on a proposal I co-wrote entirely in Spanish (while getting no traction with the proposal I had been brought on in part to write).
  • I initially wooed my wife with talk of worm composting and kept her by my side by raising chickens together—sustainability isn’t just a field of study, it is a life.
I am most proud of:

  • My sustainability superstar wife Erin Redman and increasingly our two year old daughter.
  • The scholarship fund I helped to get started and continue to raise funds for, which is successfully graduating poor, rural El Salvadoran youths from university.
  • A master’s thesis on the adoption of improved cookstoves.
  • Bringing sustainability to a whole new audience in Mexico.
  • Launching a website to share blog posts focused on bridging the gap between academia and the public in discussions of Sustainability solutions and how we can achieve them.
But the best is yet to come as part of the Educating Future Change Agents Team!

You can reach me at redman[at]leuphana.de or aaron.redman[at]asu.edu.

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Introducing the Educating Future Change Agents Blog

Welcome to the Educating Future Change Agents (EFCA) Blog!!! The EFCA is an exciting new research project into the question of how students can be best educated to become impactful change agents who drive forward the necessary sustainability transition. Research will be conducted jointly at two of the leading universities in sustainability education, Leuphana University of Lüneburg in Germany and Arizona State University in the United States.

The project addresses how competence acquisition can best be fostered through novel teaching and learning approaches in individual sustainability courses as well as through an entire sustainability curriculum. Research will focus on the acquisition of sustainability competencies in sustainability programs, teacher education programs, and extra-curricular programs on social entrepreneurship at both universities using a multi-methodological approach, combining in-depth qualitative case studies with a quantitative sample study to generate both detailed as well as generalizable insights.

For more details about the research design and overall project check out the Project Overview webpage.

So we begin

This October 2016 the EFCA project launched with a team of four PhD and two Post-Doctoral researchers joining the existing team of Principal Investigators. For more information about the team see their brief bios here and stay tuned to the blog for more extensive introductions over the next few months.

Focus group discussion with sustainability professionals at ASU. December 2, 2016
Work package 1 is already underway as we seek to validate the key sustainability competencies via interviews and focus groups with sustainability professionals and alumni of both the ASU and Leuphana sustainability degree programs. In November the whole team traveled to ASU for a three week, whirlwind introduction of the university, its sustainability initiatives and the courses and curriculum to be studied in the project and the carried out the first focus group with sustainability professionals on December 2nd (stay tuned here for more details).

Here we blog

We are very excited to be launching this blog along with the EFCA research project. We don´t know what exactly this space will evolve into but we hope to create a space which ultimately fosters conversations around educating for sustainability in higher education and drives forward implementation of evidence based curricular change towards creating future change agents. Specifically we expect to share regularly about progress on our research, describe the methodological approaches we are taking and elaborate early results as they come in.

We welcome your participation and encourage you to reply in the comments or to submit a guest post if interested. Don´t forget to follow the blog in order to not miss any updates.