Multidisciplinary research teams: A quantitative analysis of interventions and barriers to their success
Young, Anna Thomas
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As many concerns revolve around creating and sustaining a multidisciplinary research team, studying team interactions will help in identifying possible solutions for overcoming disciplinary and other barriers. The conceptual framework that was used to frame this study was based on three conceptual models to provide a foundation of past and current multidisciplinary research collaborations, so that empirical links can be identified and disseminated to create more cohesive and progressive approaches for multidisciplinary research work in higher education institutions. The purpose of this non-experimental quantitative study was to examine the perceptions of researchers who participate on multidisciplinary research teams of how their teams function. Of specific foci were what are the characteristics of multidisciplinary research teams, what tools they use to help facilitate and support team success, what barriers they face that affects their success, and if there was statistically significant differences based on gender and discipline of interactions and barriers. With such a large number of research teams collaborating in cross-disciplinary research, it is imperative to understand the inner workings of these teams. Various researchers have expressed that more research on multi-, inter-, and transdisciplinary research teams is needed to better develop and select methodologies for extensive and broad problems. The results of this study can be used to contribute to and expand on the existing limited literature regarding strategies for building, supporting, and sustaining multidisciplinary research interactions. The participants for this study were 65 individuals who work with multidisciplinary research teams and include multidisciplinary team members, faculty, and staff. Only participants who indicated employment at higher education institutions in the U.S. were asked to participate in this study. The membership list of the National Organization for Research Development Professionals (NORDP) was utilized. A researcher-developed web-based 18 question survey instrument was used to collect the data for this study to address the four research questions. Data was analyzed with SPSS 20.0 and descriptive and inferential statistics were used to answer the four research questions. The findings of the study indicate that the characteristics of members of multidisciplinary research teams based on the participants in this study are doctoral or terminal-degreed, non-Hispanic White females, who work within a four-year public higher education institution. The participants were mainly between the ages of 36-54. In addition, the participants identified that a majority of them did not utilize tools such as mapping, online research development tools, or attend training/conferences to help with team success. A majority did identify that internal seed funding from their institution was a tool that they used. The participants acknowledged that there were several barriers that created challenges to multidisciplinary research team success including teams waiting until the last minute to complete work, negative interactions among team members, lack of use of team interventions, and a lack of support from administration. The final finding of this study indicated that there was no statistically significant differences based on gender and discipline and team interactions and barriers faced. The findings of this study lead to several implications for higher education. The first is that the diversity of the members on multidisciplinary research teams is important to the success of the outcomes of these teams, as a lack of diversity can lead to narrow-minded solutions to large scale problems. A second implication is the failure to invest in and educate faculty and staff on tools that have shown to help multidisciplinary research teams be successful can lead to unsuccessful research experiences and dissatisfaction of these key people in participating in future research teams. The final implication is that a lack of administrative support, specifically in the areas of resources, can lead to a difficult atmosphere in which to collaborate on large multidisciplinary projects. There are three recommendations provided to address the findings of this study. The first is that institutions should put forth the effort to put together diverse, multidisciplinary research teams that are diverse in gender, ethnicity, as well as discipline. The second recommendation is that universities need to invest in the tools that have been shown to be effective in helping multidisciplinary teams find success and lead to meaningful work. The final recommendation is that higher education institutions must work to remove barriers within the institution that prevents multidisciplinary research team success.