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Post Doc survey now open

Dr. Libby Hemphill and Dr. Stephanie Teasley of the University of Michigan, School of Information invite you to be a part of a research study that examines the experiences and preferences of post doctoral researchers (postdocs). The purpose of the study is to understand the kinds of experiences postdocs have and to design better support and training programs for postdocs and their advisors. We are asking you to participate because you are currently a postdoc.

If you agree to be part of the research study, you will be asked to complete a web-based survey about your experiences as a postdoc.  We expect this survey to take 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

At the end of the survey, you will have the opportunity to enter a drawing for one of three $50 Amazon gift certificates. Researchers will not be able to link your survey responses to you, but you will be asked to enter your name and email if you wish to be included in the drawing for Amazon gift certificates. The survey software keeps your identifying information separate from the answers you provide to the survey.

We plan to publish the results of this study but will not include any information that would identify you. We will share anonymous, aggregated data with colleagues at the Arizona State University School of Public Affairs (ASU); Dr. Erik Johnston at ASU will use the aggregated data to inform agent-based models of research labs. These models will also help us understand and improve postdoc experiences.

Participating in this study is completely voluntary. Even if you decide to participate now, you may change your mind and stop at any time. You may choose to not answer an individual question or you may skip any section of the survey.  Simply click “Next” at the bottom of the survey page to move to the next set of questions.

If you have questions about this research study, you can contact Libby Hemphill, Ph.D., University of Michigan, School of Information, 1075 Beal Ave., Ann Arbor, MI 48109, (734) 678-9748,libbyh@umich.edu.

If you have questions about your rights as a research participant, please contact the University of Michigan Institutional Review Board Health Sciences and Behavioral Sciences, 540 E. Liberty, Ste. 202, Ann Arbor, MI 48104-2210, (866) 936-0933 (toll-free), irbhsbs@umich.edu.

By clicking on the link below, you are consenting to participate in this research survey.

Take me to the survey

If you do not wish to participate, click the “x” in the top corner of your browser to exit.

Pedestrian Tools and Character-driven Science: How Bones Helped Me Rethink My Research

I wrote a memo for myself in which I develop analogies between television shows that involve collaborative science work and my own research on geographically distributed science teams. My goal is to use popularized science to get us to think differently about our own research. I use examples from the forensics drama Bones and data from my current study of post doctoral researchers and their labs to examine how we make sense of scientific collaboration and the tools used to accomplish science. I argue that we should focus more on the pedestrian tools scientists use to accomplish their work and to carefully study the scientists themselves and not just their tasks.

Download the full paper (3.5 pages)

Twitter network for danah boyd JSB Symposium talk

Today’s John Seely Brown Symposium had an active Twitter hashtag of #danahjsb. I imported the hashtag network* into NodeXL and had it draw up a graph for me (click the image for a giant BMP version):

#danahjsb network

#danahjsb network

Image size depends on the user’s number of followers. Edge color depends on the kind of edge – yellow indicates a following relationship, blue a reply/mention relationship. Compare our graph to Marc Smith’s graph of the #win09 hashtag users:

#win09 network

#win09 network

You’ll notice a couple of things. First, Marc is better with NodeXL than I am, and his graph is just easier to read. Then, dig a little deeper and notice that the network of users who used the #danahjsb hashtag is more densely connected. The #win09 network is brokered by the guy in the middle, and the #danahjsb network has no obvious brokers. More to come on my thoughts about the symposium talk and panel, stay tuned.

* only users whose tweets are public are included in these network diagrams

More Info:

What the hashtag?! – view the tweets

Coming Soon – watch the symposium talk and panel

Building Bridges: A Study of Coordination in Projects

On August 13, I successfully defended my dissertation. Today, I submitted my final, approved version to University of Michigan’s institutional repository. That version won’t be available until after I receive my degree in December, but you’re welcome to read a nearly identical version of my complete dissertation.

Dissertation Abstract
In our efforts to understand how collaborative work can be accomplished, we often turn to discussions of “coordination” for help. However, the concept of coordination is inadequate for explaining the many interdependent processes at work within successful collaborations. In this dissertation, I examined a collaborative construction project — the Woods Avenue Bridge (WAB) Project — with many coordination demands. I used data from this project to develop the concept of adaptive capacity — the set of capabilities a team develops that enable them to adjust to internal and external stresses.

Through analyzing meeting minutes, interview transcripts, and documents the project team developed, I was able to identify behaviors and approaches the team took that may have enabled them to better respond to changes in their environment. I use a specific example of a time when the team successfully redesigned the structure they were building in the field to illustrate the kind of coordination work adaptive capacity enables.

From data about the WAB Project, I identified components of adaptive capacity including perspective taking, multimembership, affect, and social capital. Understanding these components and the adaptive capacity they can develop helps us understand what about a team enables them to accomplish coordination work. Without adaptive capacity, we lack an integrated explanation of the ways in which different components interact and how those components address coordination.

This dissertation contributes to our understanding of how collaborative teams accomplish coordination by refining the concept of adaptive capacity and integrating earlier literatures on coordination, collaboration, and adaptation. The concept of adaptive capacity helps us understand the resources collaborative teams develop that make it possible for them to find flexible and creative solutions to their coordination problems.

Current Research: Joining Virtual Organizations

People keep asking me what I’m working on now that I’ve defended my dissertation and moved to Arizona State. The answer is, “research!” More specifically, I’m working on a research project to understand and improve the experience of joining a virtual organization. My colleagues, Erik Johnston and Stephanie Teasley, and I are studying post doctoral researchers who joined (or are joining) virtual science research organizations. I’ve made a diagram of our research process to make this more clear (click the image for a larger version):
Joining Virtual Organizations Research Project Process

The red parts represent the inductive, qualitative portion of our study. I am primarily responsible for those stages of the project. I am currently collecting data, and that’s why that piece looks different. Erik is primarily responsible for the deductive portions, those in blue. This diagram was inspired by process diagrams of grounded theory and deduction from

Gasson, S. (2003) Rigor in Grounded Theory Research: An Interpretive Perspective on Generating Theory from Qualitative Research. In Whitman, M.E. and Woszczynski, A.B., eds. The handbook of information systems research. Hershey, PA: Idea Group.

Gill, J. and Johnson, P. (1997) Research Methods for Managers, 2nd Ed., London: Paul Chapman Publishing.

Libby the Visiting Scholar

I have joined the faculty of the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University for the academic calendar year. My office door and email signature now say, “Visiting Scholar.” I’m visiting ASU to work with Dr. Erik Johnston on a grant we received from the National Science Foundation last year: Joining Virtual Organizations. I’m conducting interviews and observations with post doctoral researchers and their colleagues in 8 distributed science research projects. Stay tuned for preliminary findings about what post docs experience when joining distributed teams and how distributed teams integrate new members.

danah boyd and Panel at JSB Symposium

Each year the School of Information hosts a John Seeley Brown Symposium on Technology and Society, and danah boyd is this year’s keynote speaker. John Seeley Brown, Ed Vielmetti, Cliff Lampe, and I will be on a panel following her talk: “Youth-Generated Culture: Growing Up in an Era of Social Media”

JSB Symposium info
Tuesday, October 13
Blau Auditorium at the Ross School of Business, Tappan and Monroe Streets

The Wrongheadedness of Best Practice Thinking

I’ve come across a gem of a book introduction, and I’m writing to recommend that you read it. Yes, all of you. The introduction is from the book Strategic Procurement in Construction by Andrew Cox and Mike Townsend, published in 1998. The shelves of bookstores are crowded with advice for practitioners and business owners about the latest “best practices” for their business or for business in general. I have contributed to the best practice literature myself, trying to make my onboarding research findings accessible and interesting. I’ve been troubled by the literature before; something about the idea of a “best practice” made me wary, much like a “Truth” did when I spent more time with philosophy. I noticed this frustration most acutely when teaching master’s students in a professional degree program. So many students demanded that I teach them best practices, that I tell them what to do in their next job. I tried to explain to students that I was helping them acquire new tools for meeting the challenges information professionals face, not giving them step-by-step instructions for how to do their eventual jobs.

Cox and Townsend argue in their introduction, and throughout the book, that best practice thinking is wrong-headed and leaves us playing catch up. One of my favorite bits of the introduction reads:

They will be searching for the ‘Holy Grail’ of best practice. By this one means practitioners are looking for the answer that provides the solution to all of the problems which they face managerially. Unfortunately, this desire to discover the single solution (best practice), that will allow the practitioner to avoid the need for thought and risk taking, is an illusion.

They go on to discuss concepts such as appropriateness and leverage and recognize that many practitioners would call their discussions “common sense.” Their response?

Some of the practitioners who read these pages may accept what has been said, and argue that this is just common sense (which it is), and that they already know this. If that is the case then this book may have little to teach them, however, because experience leads the authors to conclude that such a form of sense (in a business context) does not appear to be all that common.

I wish I’d written something like that in the paper Andy and I submitted recently that was rejected for having results that were not surprising enough. The results we found in our onboarding study were surprising because we found them and not necessarily in their content. For instance, it’s surprising that teams still behave as though new employees will be immediately productive even though the sense that onboarding takes time is apparently common. Much like Cox and Townsend find that strategic procurement is not all that common, neither are teams who smoothly onboard their new members.

My questions as I continue to read Cox and Townsend’s book are really about how one encourages strategic, reflective thinking over best practice thinking and how one should present research results that show just how uncommon common sense can be. See, one can learn things by studying construction projects. This message brought to you by my dissertation, a work in progress.

NSF Workshop Report on Qualitative Research

The report for NSF’s two-day workshop on Interdisciplinary Standards for Systematic Qualitative Research is now available. The goals of the workshop were to (quoted from the report):

  1. articulate the standards used in their particular field to ensure rigor across the range of qualitative methodological approaches;
  2. identify common criteria shared across the four disciplines for designing and evaluating research proposals and fostering multidisciplinary collaborations; and
  3. develop an agenda for strengthening the tools, training, data, research design, and infrastructure for research using qualitative approaches.

The whole report is 180 pages long, but you can get the gist from the executive summary. For graduate students, the longer sections on “Recommendations for Producing Top Notch Qualitative Research” and “Promising New Research Areas and Topics” are especially interesting reads. I’ll post more details when I have a little more time. We don’t get to see into the minds of our faculty members every day, and reports like this one give us a glimpse. Take a look, and keep working on your top notch research.

Almost! A blog commenter’s story

I posted a comment to Freakonomics today, and I almost made it on the first page of comments. Sadly, mine is #27 and is unlikely to be read by anyone but those of you who clicked it from here. Or maybe, if I get really lucky, someone else procrastinating bigger things will post a “re: #27” comment later.

The Freakonomics post was about a website where potential employers could post mini projects for students and other job seekers to complete. The idea is that then job seekers can demonstrate their skills before being interviewed or hired. Sadly, I think such a site would get plenty of traffic. I sympathize with all the students who would feel compelled to do those extra projects during what little remains of their sleeping hours. And no, I don’t think it would help them get jobs.

Oh, I also commented on Question: Where to Study Information Visualization or Infographics at Information Aesthetics today. Yes, I gave the School of Information a shout out. I would love to have more infoaesthetics types around.

On the employer side, I doubt that such a site would actually help find appropriate employees. If my work at Microsoft taught me nothing else, it showed that domain proficiency does not indicate success in employment. Great engineers have mad social skills. All engineers spend more time in meetings than any student could ever imagine. A site for mini projects might get work done for free, but it won’t help people weed through CS graduates to find the ones that can work in teams and on large-scale projects. Now if only there were some way to figure out whether a potential employee could work well with others…