Attention to values helps shape convergence research

C. Helgeson, R. E. Nicholas, K. Keller, C. E. Forest, and N. Tuana

Climatic Change (28 January 2022)

DOI: 10.1007/s10584-021-03274-y

Convergence research is driven by specific and compelling problems and requires deep integration across disciplines. The potential of convergence research is widely recognized, but questions remain about how to design, facilitate, and assess such research. Here we analyze a seven-year, twelve-million-dollar convergence project on sustainable climate risk management to answer two questions. First, what is the impact of a project-level emphasis on the values that motivate and tie convergence research to the compelling problems? Second, how does participation in convergence projects shape the research of postdoctoral scholars who are still in the process of establishing themselves professionally? We use an interview-based approach to characterize what the project specifically enabled in each participant’s research. We find that (a) the project pushed participants’ research into better alignment with the motivating concept of convergence research and that this effect was stronger for postdoctoral scholars than for more senior faculty. (b) Postdocs’ self-assessed understanding of key project themes, however, appears unconnected to metrics of project participation, raising questions about training and integration. Regarding values, (c) the project enabled heightened attention to values in the research of a large minority of participants. (d) Participants strongly believe in the importance of explicitly reflecting on values that motivate and pervade scientific research, but they question their own understanding of how to put value-focused science into practice. This mismatch of perceived importance with poor understanding highlights an unmet need in the practice of convergence science.

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