I cannot recall a year where I was looking forward to new perspectives this much. And what better way to start the new year than with a new lab vision? In this blog I share our approach to teamwork and lessons I learned from this as a group leader. As scientists, we hope to contribute to a better future for the new generation. Therefore, the teams do not only work on scientific questions, but also on embedding science in society. We remodeled our lab website to reflect this new lab vision.

Since 2020, the SYNC lab (short for: Society, Youth and Neuroscience Connected) aims to integrate fundamental brain and behavioral science with high stake societal issues. We know what it takes to work in teams to organize our scientific projects, which proves valuable and enriching when tackling complex, large-scale projects. What’s new is how we now also collaborate in teams beyond data collection and publications.

Team Science beyond projects
Working together with 20 scientists requires some thought on how to get organized, especially when most meetings are virtual or hybrid, such as during the pandemic. How can we navigate the academic world in such a way that one can grow individually as a scientist? How can we grow as a team? And how can we quickly respond to urgent questions in society using teamwork? To tackle these challenges, we organized ourselves in five teams with alternating team members:

  • The Transparency, open science & outreach team works on a long-term vision, tools and resources to continuously improve how we conduct, publish, evaluate and communicate our research.
  • The Diversity & inclusion team continuously monitors and aims to improve our efforts towards inclusion and diversity. The team developed smart goals to diversify our research samples, to create an inclusive education- and work environment, and include other voices.
  • The On being a scientist team discusses issues such as scientific integrity, ways to become the best version of yourself, and work-life balance.
  • The YoungXperts team organizes youth panels and stakeholder sessions to bring science to society, including policy.
  • And the Healthy Start team uses a wicked problems approach where technological, medical, and social-behavioral sciences come together.

You may think that some teams are more fundamental-science focused, and others oriented towards society. But in fact, all teams are strongly focused on science-society interactions. What I learned when we developed these teams is that all researchers are committed to making a difference, each with their own personal ambition and mission.

An additional advantage of working in smaller teams is also that it becomes easier to share personal experiences. Communicating via Zoom with 20 people can easily lead to some people feeling unnoticed. Smaller teams give you the opportunity to not only speak up, but also notice when someone else is a bit quiet. This makes it easier to ask how your colleague is doing and to create space for personal conversation.

We will keep learning and improving how to find the best team format. But I hope that the new perspectives will allow for novel ways to share passions and missions, personal and scientific.

New perspectives are what we need, not only in the way we organize our science. Policy desperately needs new perspectives as well, as becomes evident in our efforts to give young people the best possible future despite the ongoing pandemic.

Growing up a pandemic
Growing up during a pandemic is not an easy task when you are a teenager. Since the start of the pandemic young people had to make many sacrifices such as social distancing and school closures. These sacrifices are difficult for all people, but data from the YoungXperts team show that negative feelings increased during pandemic especially for youth ages 16-25-years. Young people feel the need to explore the world. This is the time of developing deep and intimate friendships. All these basic needs are put on hold during social distancing and school closings. And this it not only the case in the Netherlands. Scientists in the UK recently argued that ‘schools should be the last to close and the first to open in if there were any future lockdowns’. That’s why the SYNC teams, all the teams, worked hard on reports for policy makers and societal partners to make the science on well-being and societal contributions of youth accessible. Through the YoungXperts platform & Instagram we hope to give young people the opportunity to be seen, heard and contribute, something that especially important during these challenging times.

Some room for optimism
But there is one thing that makes me optimistic. After two years of press conferences by the Dutch government, I sensed a change at the most recent press conference on January 14th 2022. For the first time, the Prime-Minster started the press conference with noting the mental health problems people were experiencing. The new Minister of Health showed graphs of loneliness among young people, showing that he takes mental health as seriously as physical health. There is still a lot to do to keep opportunities for young people on the political agenda, but during this last press conference, the new tone made me hopeful for a more inclusive perspective on health. Let’s hope this is a new perspective will push scientists, practitioners and policy makers to team up for a better future for the young generation.