Friday, July 14, 2017


I don’t really know what my ears look like. I know the shape from the front, I guess I know how they feel, but in a line-up of ears… I’m not positive I could pick out my own.  But I can close my eyes and picture the ears of my friends with no problem.  I see them from a different angle.  Our world is beautifully complex, and a place this rich and teeming with diversity will understandably demand a complex and open-minded pattern of thought to navigate the challenges. To gain a cohesive understanding, changing the viewing angle matters- for ears, for elephants, for science.

Sounds great, right?  Easy?  Except that’s not always how it works.  We have natural inclinations, preferences, and abilities that tend to shape the way we process information.  Honoring unique interests and honing skills are what makes a person damn good at what they do, and usually what makes them happy at the same time.  It would be pretty awesome to be great at everything you put your hand to, but for most of us that’s just not gonna happen. There isn't time in a human life span, so how can you walk that line between specialization and depth, and a broad holistic outlook?

In the words of the illustrious problem-solving team The Wonder Pets-  Teamwork!

The benefits of cross-disciplinary teamwork are immeasurable.  Working across disciplinary lines is similar to a cross-cultural experience.  The language, focus, and tools of the trade are foreign. Working with a researcher or partner in another field demands critical thinking skills that push past biases and stagnant thought patterns. Collaboration teaches you how to think, not what to think, laying a foundation for innovation and exploration.  Scientific breakthroughs often happen through shifts in perspective, new ways of approaching a problem, or applying a solution out of context.

We come to Menomonie this summer with a diverse set of perspectives and interests.  In order to make a difference, we have to value and start to understand each other’s ways of thinking, meld those models into a cohesive conceptual framework to address water quality, and use that framework to find creative solutions.

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten the chance to work with several other teams.  I rode along with the sociology crew as Elise and Sadie surveyed farmers to assess what impacts their adoption of best management practices. It was valuable to see the response to specific survey questions and to get a snapshot of the way they are measuring the data they receive.  I tromped upstream with the geography team, counting footsteps and defending myself from spiders while they profiled sites.  Elizabeth and Stephanie spend their days getting a very different sort of information than I collect, and the way they ask questions startles me out of my anthro-bubble. Madison and Rayleigh have been my road buddies on the path north, and their focus on the economic and tourism components of TMDL implementation, alongside cost-benefit analysis of conservation agricultural practices, dovetails neatly into what I’m interviewing people about. It’s just… science efficiency, and having a sense of their project provides me with a richer context for the qualitative data I’m gathering.

Besides coming out of this with a research topic that has been poked and prodded by 19 different delightfully weirdo minds, we are learning how to communicate in multiple styles.  Successful collaboration demands even ground- sharing information with people who have a different background is good practice, and receiving and blending data with your own makes for an evolution of thought that is intellectually stimulating and... well, it’s just more fun. 

Bonus: If your ears ever commit a crime, now you'll know.

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