Training scientists to collaborate

18 July 2017

Interview with

Natalia Landázuri, Karolinska Institute

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Historically, early career science training was dominated by learning which end of a pipette to hold, and doing lots of experiments badly until you learned to do them better. But the era of the sole scientist who beetles away in solitary confinement in front of a microscope for decades is well and truly over. Science has become much more collaborative and much more multidisciplinary. And that means teaching and training need to keep up. Which is why Natalia Landázuri, at Stockholm's Karolinska Institute, has been piloting a way to teach some of these skills by linking her institution to one on the other side of the Atlantic. She tells Chris Smith why the course was created...

Natalia - The way the world is changing, the way it is so easy to interact with people across the world with the help of technologies, the easiness to access information online and gather information has changed the extent to which collaboration can happen. And also, the way knowledge is being built, we have so much more knowledge from so many different areas that gathering that increases the need for collaboration across the world really and across disciplines.

Chris - So you’re saying, it’s important that a student, an early career scientist isn’t just taught how to fiddle with test tubes and do experiments but also how to use this network and how to develop this network for themselves internationally.

Natalia - Absolutely. Well, it is true that a traditional training for a doctoral student would be to have the student in the lab and tell them how to do technical things, how to use a pipette. Those really are just the beginning and even if a student is not willing to embark in an academic research career, skills of internationalization, innovation, creative thinking, those are skills that a person should also be trained for for their future.

Chris - The thing is that a lot of people who are training these students, these early career researchers, have themselves had to develop those skills organically as they’ve grown their career. They haven’t actually ever been taught how to teach them. So, is that really what you were seeking to do here?

Natalia - Exactly. That’s exactly what we were thinking about. I totally agree. It has been a challenge for a person to all of a sudden finish a PhD and be thrown in the middle of an academic setting being told, “You need your own line of research, your own ideas and find your own funding, and your own network” pretty much. It is definitely something that was lacking and that is still lacking in most instances during doctoral education. So that is the gap that we were willing to fill through the development of this course.

Chris - Tell us about the course.

Natalia - We implemented this joint doctoral course in regenerative medicine. It was a collaboration between Karolinska Institute that’s in Stockholm, Sweden and Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in the United States. And it was a joint course that we shared between the two institutions through video conferencing and through other online tools. What we did is agreed on the common grounds for the learning outcomes and on the teaching-learning activities for the students. And the way we designed the course is that we would have a synchronous in-class occasions through video conferencing and then we would have the asynchronous off-class occasions where students would work on their own, reflect on different scientific topics but they would also interact with each other.

Chris - What did the students say about it? What do they think they got out of the experience?

Natalia - I think it was highly rewarding. We sent out an evaluation at the end of the course and we got pretty good feedback saying, “This is amazing! Thank you so much. I haven’t ever been in a course like this.” But we first wanted to know if the online and video conference systems we were using were okay for the students if they were actually getting what they were hoping for. And the answer to that was, yes, the students didn’t really see a difference in their interactions with speakers. They didn’t think that the quality of the talks were different. They highly enjoyed the fact that they could collaborate and communicate with the students on the other side of the screen. So, I mean it was really a highly appreciated course.

Chris - Do you think this would translate to other institutions or was this a very special relationship between the Karolinska and the Mayo or do you think it would be something that could be generically offered? And also, to what extent do you think it’s a reflection, its success, on the topic regenerative medicine? Would it work for people doing particle physics or people doing palaeoanthropology?

Natalia - Our thought was this was a proof of concept for a course that could really be expanded to any other area of science of research, of just any other top educational activity or even outside of education. Just the possibility to form collaborative networks using technology so that we can brainstorm together and take ideas further is something that can definitely be implemented in other settings and we would certainly encourage others to test this type of setting.

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