Faculty voice:

Research Team: Studying Environmental Science

Oct. 22, 2014

Kendra Spence Cheruvelil, Kevin Elliott, Georgina Montgomery and Patricia Soranno are an interdisciplinary research team studying environmental science.

Most scientists today work in teams. Here, we explain what our team is all about and how much we can learn from being part of diverse research teams. Much of how science is done today is based on practices that were developed decades to centuries ago. And yet, so much has changed in society and science, including the increasing prevalence of teams conducting science as opposed to lone individuals, the importance of technology, the opportunities for doing science using big data and the increased concerns about the diversity of people doing science.

About a year ago, we started working together to study some of these changes in how science is conducted and to develop solutions to some of the current challenges. We first studied the ethics of data sharing. Later, we joined forces with Isis Settles from psychology and began exploring how diversity within scientific teams can affect their standards and practices. Now, we are beginning to study how scientific practices are changing in response to the rise of big-data approaches in environmental science.

We come from very different fields, including philosophy, history and ecology, and we combine our disciplinary perspectives to examine the changes and challenges facing environmental scientists. As such, our collaboration demonstrates the intellectual value of studying problems from diverse viewpoints.

For example, the first topic we tackled in our collaboration was the issue of data sharing. Although we focused on environmental scientists, this is a current hot topic in many fields. We found that we needed the different methods, concepts and perspectives from each of our disciplines to better understand the current lack of data sharing by many environmental scientists.

A historical perspective showed us why sharing has not happened to date; a philosophical perspective showed us the underlying ethical arguments for data sharing; and an ecological perspective clarified the challenges in data sharing for practicing scientists.

Our collaboration also illustrates a value of interdisciplinary collaborations that is less frequently discussed—how such collaborations could provide scholars with a sense of community and opportunities for cross-disciplinary creativity. One member of our team is from a discipline that typically works independently; another team member is from a discipline that typically either works alone or in small groups and two of us work in medium to large teams.

Each of us has found working in this interdisciplinary team very enriching for us personally and professionally, with the collaboration adding energy and creativity to our entire research program. So far, our collaboration has generated a publication and, working with our colleague Isis Settles, a National Science Foundation grant to examine how diversity in science teams impacts resource sharing. Read more>> We are pleased to see that the new Science Studies @ State (S3) grant program may generate additional opportunities for other teams at MSU to do fun, exciting, and intellectually rewarding interdisciplinary collaborations.

Read the latest news from the team>>

  • Cheruveli is an associate professor in Lyman Briggs College and fisheries and wildlife. Her lab focuses on developing the fledgling field of landscape limnology and applying those principles to the management and conservation of freshwater resources.
  • Elliott is an associate professor in Lyman Briggs College with joint appointments in philosophy and fisheries and wildlife. Many of the case studies he studies involve controversial areas of contemporary research on environmental pollution that are relevant to public policy.
  • Montgomery is an assistant professor in Lyman Briggs College and history. Her research focuses on the history of field science, particularly the development of field methods and sites within primatology and animal behavior studies.
  • Soranno is a professor of fisheries and wildlife. Specifically, she is an landscape limnologist, a freshwater scientist studying the multi-scaled spatial and temporal drivers of aquatic chemistry and biology, as well as macro systems ecologist, which sees her conduct research to develop concepts, approaches and datasets needed to foster the development of data-intensive approaches in ecology.

Photo by G.L. Kohuth