There is no i in team, but there are two in scientist{1}

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, Dr. J.”  At least one student offers me this comment every semester I teach in SCALE-UP. Most of the students, especially the athletes, are sincere, but often, there is a hint of sarcasm dished up with the mantra.

[Boston Red Sox team photo at 1912 World Series (baseball)] (LOC)

Boston Red Sox team photo at 1912 World Series

Teamwork. It’s one of the fundamental learning outcomes for this course. We draw upon loads of psychological and educational research to create the best possible opportunity for functional team experiences. Teams of three works best, or so I’m told. The tables must be exactly seven feet in diameter. Any smaller, the students will get crowded and crabby. Any larger, the distance across the table will feel too far for intimate discussion. Just give them one networked laptop. Then they will have to work together. The approach to teaching teamwork is all very scientific. I like that. I’m a scientist after all.

A scientist. “Scientists are team players”, I tell my students. “We have to be, especially in the 21st century where solving the ‘big’ problems in the world –  related to hunger, water, disease, energy – will require multidisciplinary approaches.” Sounds great. But does the culture of science truly embrace teamwork? Do I?

What has me wondering and worrying about teamwork is this post by Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings blog. Popova reminds us what talents from Steve Wozniak to Stephen King have reminded us: that the creative process requires significant amounts of solitude.

I cannot argue with that view.  My Myers-Briggs profile:  INFJ, emphasis on the I. Like Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi and Hitler. Notable people to be sure, but not exactly team players.


sunrise runs… just me and the cattle

I cherish alone time – to think, to dream and to write. I run and cycle for hours at a time, bringing myself as remote as I dare, almost hoping to get lost, out of cell phone range and thus truly unreachable for a spell that never feels quite long enough. I’ll wake up at 5, 4:30 even 4 in the morning to catch the stillest of hours, when even my dog cannot be bothered to bother me. I love staying in hotel rooms in unfamiliar towns, where nobody knows my name, and still, I might hide in the bathroom to work.

I love my family, my colleagues, and people and dogs in general. And undoubtedly, my best ideas about cell biology, education and a host of other subjects were not developed in a vacuum. SCALE-UP, blogging, and Course Networking were not my inventions, although I hope that I can bring something original to their application. Like many scientists, I am fascinated by complex problems and understand that the solutions are beyond my grasp or that of any individual. I love learning from people whose domain knowledge exceeds mine on just about any topic from physics to art to poetry. And I love sharing my own expertise with anyone who truly cares. More than just about anything, I love synchronicity, which happens with far greater frequency when I spend time with diverse and interesting people.

But I also need time alone. Time for my neurons to arrange all the disparate puzzle pieces gathered from social, multi-disciplinary endeavors into a construction that has meaning  and matters to me. Time to create something of value to share with my colleagues, my teammates. Ironically, blogging, a medium that could hardly be any more public, has become that opportunity for solitude and deep introspection.

So to my students: while I don’t apologize for making you work in teams, I do understand how difficult it can be. I’m happy to talk with you about this anytime. Just come to my office, up on the top floor of Derring,  way down the hall, nestled all the way in the back, where it’s nice and quiet and you’ll likely find me all by myself.