The Blog

Creating Effective Collaboration and Diversity in Scientific Teams

Last October, when Dennis Montoya, Ph.D., was learning about the increasing influence of large interdisciplinary research teams in the scientific process at a UC sponsored retreat, he couldn’t help but foresee how consideration of the composition of teams could maximize their effectiveness.  On Tuesday, many UCLA affiliates also had a chance to find out.  Several graduate students, postdoctoral scholars, faculty, and administrators joined in a half-day workshop to learn how to promote dynamic and productive research by integrating diversity into scientific teams.  Attendees spanned science and non-science fields as well as different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.  The Effective Collaboration and Diversity in Scientific Teams workshop was spearheaded by Dr. Montoya, Chair of STEM-PLEDGE (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics – Providing Leadership & Enhancing Diversity in Graduate Education) and was sponsored by the Diversity Affairs Office at the David Geffen School of Medicine. 


The main goal was to inform participants about themes such as constructing collaborations, moving beyond disciplinary jargon, developing one’s career in a team science context, working with differences, and managing conflict. Another goal, according to Dr. Montoya, “was to spur people into action to support mentoring programs for underrepresented students and we received numerous volunteers which will help to perpetuate the benefit to other scientists in the future.” 


Angelica Riestra, a graduate student in Microbiology, Immunology, and Molecular Genetics (MIMG) and STEM-PLEDGE member, helped plan the workshop.  She shared, “I felt myself nodding with a lot of the data supporting thoughts I have formulated throughout my life based on my own experiences, but in particular what struck me was the very well-documented fact that mentorship can drastically influence a student’s future academic success.” She believes that attending even one panel discussion can make a difference to students by giving them hope and examples of role models from different backgrounds.  As for STEM-PLEDGE, as a group, “we understand that addressing diversity in the sciences is a delicate process, but it is an important issue that should be addressed, thus we hope that everyone came out with some tools that they can implement in their own schooling and careers.  The fact that everyone was so engaged was truly beautiful.”


The topics and speakers included:

-Keynote Speaker: Inviting Everyone In

Victoria Plaut, M.Sc., Ph.D.

Professor of Law and Social Science

Director, Culture, Diversity & Intergroup Relations Lab

University of California, Berkeley

-Workshop 1: Building effective scientific collaborations

L. Michelle Bennett, Ph.D.

Deputy Scientific Director for the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), NIH

-Workshop 2: Managing conflicts

Howard Gadlin, Ph.D.

Director, NIH Office of the Ombudsman


STEM-PLEDGE is a society of graduate students and postdocs dedicated to increasing the number of underrepresented students entering and completing doctoral programs in STEM graduate fields.


As Montoya states, “our group is open to any scientist who shares a common concern about equal access to education and in the broadening of opportunities for academic leadership and participation. We have a number of career development workshops, mentoring opportunities, and diversity outreach events.  The next event in early March is a career branding workshop to help develop skills to best present yourself and your science to potential collaborators, employers and advance your career.”  They also provide mentorship to students at different stages in their scientific studies, including high-school students. 


For more information about STEM-PLEDGE and how to get involved, visit their website