Reasons why a PhD needs team science: My personal experiences
In my PhD project, I study how adolescents develop into contributing members of society and, more specifically, how they contribute to their social environment by being socially engaged. For example, this entails helping close others, such as friends and family, as well as more distant others, such as society (e.g., volunteering work). A significant portion of my day-to-day work studying adolescents’ societal contributions consists of working independently on writing papers and analyzing data. Indeed, a PhD entails working on your own scientific research and thereby specializing in a specific topic. However, there is also the other side of the PhD coin. My PhD project also includes research projects in which I intensively work together with colleagues, students, etc. It is precisely these collaborations that make my PhD so exciting and fulfilling. Throughout the first 1.5 years of my PhD, I learned about the importance of working together with others. Especially now that we can meet in person after the lockdowns and working-from-home regulations, I truly appreciate these collaborative efforts or, in other words, ‘team science’. I am honored that I get to do a PhD in the SYNC lab, as I am not only studying how adolescents are socially engaged, but I also have the chance to be socially engaged myself.
In this blog, I will share some of my experiences of team science.
One of the clearest examples of team science in my PhD is the behavioral and MRI data collection of the Brainlinks study. is a longitudinal project in which we invite 142 adolescents between the ages of 9 to 19 to visit our MRI lab 3 times. During these lab visits, adolescents fill out several questionnaires and perform experimental tasks, not only on a computer but also in an MRI scanner. We are currently at the third wave of data collection and have invited up to 107 participants so far, aiming to include approximately 130 participants before summer 2022. Because data collection involves hard work, it is impossible to do this on your own. During the preparation phase, an amazing team of colleagues helped me by setting up this data collection and by answering all my questions. While collecting the behavioral and MRI data, I get significant help from the Brainlinks team consisting of research assistants and students who not only assist in all the behind the scenes (e.g., calling participants and their parents), but also supervise participants during the lab visits. This team contributes to get the most out of this project with their individual commitments and talents. The collaborative effort in data collection is one of my favorite aspects of my work in science.
Another major aspect of my PhD project in which I experience team science is education. Besides tutoring bachelor students in clinical psychology courses at the ESSB faculty, I also supervise bachelor and master students with their theses. In my experience, students are eager to learn more about their thesis topics and come up with interesting research questions they want to tackle. I appreciate their motivation to work together to get the most out of their thesis and I notice how they come up with interesting research ideas based on their questions and statistical results. These theses being reciprocal projects – while I supervise them, they teach me new things too – makes it one of the reasons why I enjoy teaching.
These examples of working together are a fundamental part of my PhD. All in all, I am convinced that the power of science lies in collaborative efforts. Team science involves combining all talents and expertise, such that everyone within a team can dedicate his or her own uniqueness to create something together.
Now that the data collection phase in my PhD is almost coming to an end – the last lab visits are scheduled mid-June – I am curious to see how team science will play a role during the remainder of my PhD. I will not only work on the papers for my PhD, but I am also excited for other projects I will hopefully encounter. Based on my recent experiences with amazing co-authors on my first first-author paper and, for example, the science festival Expeditie NEXT the SYNC lab was a part of, I already know that I do not have to worry about this.
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