Team science glossary

By Sawsan Khuri and Stefan Wuchty

Stefan Wuchty (biography)
Sawsan Khuri (biography)

As team science gains momentum, we present this glossary to standardize definitions for the most frequently used terms and phrases in the science of team science literature, and to serve as a reference point for newcomers to the field. Source material is provided where possible.

When team members are given due credit by co-authoring publications from the project. There are various co-authorship models, some are dependent on disciplinary or departmental practices, and some are negotiable. This is an issue that needs to be clarified and documented very early on in a collaborative effort (Bennet et al., 2010).

Collaboration, or Collaborative project
When two or more scientists work together on a project that is expected to end with a joint publication, and maybe even a grant proposal for more collaborations.

Collaboration readiness
The propensity of an individual, a group, or an organization to engage in active and effective team-based collaborative research. A measure of readiness is often seen as a predictor of the success of a team, whereby the more willing and well supported the members are, the better the outputs from that team will be (Börner et al., 2010; Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

Collective intelligence
Knowledge that arises from a group collaboration that would not normally have come about if the individuals had not brainstormed together on a topic (Woolley et al., 2010). This parameter justifies the basic need for team science, and appears regularly in team science literature.

Community engagement in science
A role played by people behind the scenes of a scientific research project, often considered as a role of lesser importance. However, these people keep the project on track, oiling the wheels, and acting as the knowledge brokers who make vital connections between researchers and the resources they need (Woodley 2015).

“Convergence comes as a result of the sharing of methods and ideas by chemists, physicists, computer scientists, engineers, mathematicians, and life scientists across multiple fields and industries. It is the integration of insights and approaches from historically distinct scientific and technological disciplines” (Sharp et al., 2016; Committee on Key Challenge Areas for Convergence and Health 2014; p. 8.).

Any collaboration between groups from more than one discipline. An overarching term that encompasses multi-, inter- and trans-disciplinary collaborations (Stokols et al., 2008). See individual definitions of these terms.

An area of study within one field. Traditional disciplines include biology, physics, literature, etc. Boundaries between disciplines have become fuzzier over the last quarter century, as a more integrated approach to scientific enquiry has grown (Stokols et al., 2008; Klein 2008).

Research collaboration between two or more disciplines undertaken jointly between two or more individuals from each discipline, in a way that integrates information, data, and concepts (Stokols et al., 2008). Groups will often set up exchange programs, and implement and publish joint methods papers as well as project results papers.

In scientific research groups, the team leader is often the main principal investigator of the grant, and often is a well-known senior level faculty member. Ideally, the leader has access to institutional support, can navigate social networks, and is able to speak on behalf of the team as a whole (Bennet and Gadlin 2012).

Research collaboration between groups belonging to two or more disciplines that is performed in a sequential, additive manner where each group contributes independently to achieve the end result (Stokols et al., 2008). Interaction between groups is mostly for coordination purposes, rather than integration of concepts and methods.

An individual who has a deep understanding and working knowledge of more than one discipline (Greek: poly many, math knowledge) such as Galileo, Leonardo da Vinci, or Oliver Sacks.

A term coined by students of a full-semester course in team science taught at the University of Miami in 2015. While not yet in common use, omadamathy refers to the collaborative work of a cross-disciplinary team (Greek: omada team, mathy knowledge). Usage example: Successful biomedical research today is a case of successful omadamathy.

Science of Team Science (SciTs)
The field of understanding the ways scientific teams can achieve success using themes and concepts from the sciences themselves, social and behavioral sciences, organizational science, and other disciplines (Stokols et al., 2008). SciTs aims to understand and improve upon the outcomes of collaborative scientific research.

Soft skills
Soft skills represent communication, project management and presentation skills that are crucial for the success of a scientific team, but are currently not taught as core skills in scientific training. The Science of Team Science community argues that soft skills training should be mandatory for science students at every level.

Systems thinking
In the context of team science, this phrase is sometimes used to point to the understanding of how the whole team performs within its organization and between the different organizational entities that it may include. When using this term, be sure to define the environment and boundaries of the particular system you are describing.

Team dynamics
This term refers to the interactions between the team members, both on a personal and professional level. It includes Tuckman’s (1965) five stages of group development, outlined below, and is heavily influenced by trust and effective leadership.

Forming: team members getting to know each other, let’s have a party
Storming: now they are jostling for leadership hierarchies
Norming: they have settled down to get the job done
Performing: everyone is busy
Adjourning: project ends, let’s have a party

Team science
Collaborative scientific research conducted in an interdependent manner by individuals working in small teams or larger groups (Cooke and Hilton 2015). Small teams are defined as 2-5 individuals, while larger groups are made up of more than 10 researchers, often working in smaller sub-groups.

Team science education
Training researchers in effective collaboration strategies. Team science education could take the form of entire courses at undergraduate level, through to 2-hour workshops for faculty and staff.

Team training
Teaching a group of individuals how to work together more effectively, ensuring that they are aware of the dynamics of teamwork and how to get the best out of a collaborative effort. Usually conducted in 2-hour workshops or seminar groups.

A collaboration between two or more disciplines that integrates concepts and methods to an extent that transcends each, leading to the creation of a new discipline (Stokols et al., 2008 and Falk-Krzesinski et al., 2010). One of the best examples of this is the field of bioinformatics.

Research undertaken by individuals or groups within a single discipline, such as ecology, pharmacology or religious studies.

Team science is a rapidly evolving field. Are there additional terms that you think should be included in this glossary? Does your experience match the definitions provided here? Are there subtle differences in the usage of these terms at your institute, or in the country you work in?

Bennet, M. and Gadlin, H. (2012). Collaboration and Team Science: From Theory to Practice. Journal of Investigative Medicine, 60, 5: 768–775.

Bennet, M., Gadlin, H. and Levine-Finley S. (2010). Collaboration and Team Science, a Field Guide. NIH report: 10-7660: Bethesda, Maryland, United States of America.

Börner, K., Contractor, N., Falk-Krzesinski, H., Fiore, S., Hall, K., Keyton, J.,
Spring, B., Stokols, D., Trochim, W. and Uzzi, B. (2010). A Multi-Level Systems Perspective for the Science of Team Science. Science Translational Medicine, 2, 49: 49cm24.

Committee on Key Challenge Areas for Convergence and Health, Board on Life Sciences, Division on Earth and Life Studies, and National Research Council. (2014). Convergence: Facilitating Transdisciplinary Integration of Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering, and Beyond. National Academies Press: Washington DC., United States of America.

Cooke, N., J. and Hilton, M. L. (eds). (2015). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. National Research Council of the Research Academies, National Academies Press: Washington D.C., United States of America.

Falk-Krzesinski, H., Börner, K., Contractor, N., Fiore, S., Hall, K., Keyton, J., Spring, B., Stokols, D., Trochim, W. and Uzzi, B. (2010). Advancing the Science of Team Science. Clinical and Translational Science, 3, 5: 263-6.

Klein, J. (2008). Evaluation of Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research: A Literature Review. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 35, 2S: S116 –S123.

Lotrecchiano, G., Mallinson, T., Leblanc-Beaudoin, T., Schwartz, L., Lazar, D. and Falk-Krzesinski, H. (2016). Individual Motivation and Threat Indicators of Collaboration Readiness in Scientific Knowledge Producing Teams: A Scoping Review and Domain Analysis. Heliyon, 2, 5: e00105.

Sharp, P., Hockfield, S. and Jacks, T. (2016). Convergence: the future of health. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Report, Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States of America.

Stokols, D., Hall, K., Taylor, B. and Moser, R. (2008). The Science of Team Science, Overview of the Field and Introduction to the Supplement. American Journal of Preventative Medicine, 35, 2S: S77–S89.

Tuckman, B. (1965). Developmental Sequence in Small Groups. Psychological Bulletin, 63, 6: 384-399.

Woodley, L. (2015). What is community engagement in science – and why does it matter?.

Woolley, A., Chabris, C., Pentland, A., Hashmi, N. and Malone, T. (2010). Evidence for a Collective Intelligence Factor in the Performance of Human Groups. Science, 330: 686-688.

Biography: Sawsan Khuri (@sawsankhuri) is an Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Exeter Medical School, Exeter, UK. She is a member of the genomics faculty team, and she continues to develop materials and work on strategies for education in computational science and in team science.

Biography: Stefan Wuchty is Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Miami, Florida, USA. His research interests are in the development and application of bioinformatics and systems biology algorithms, and the analysis and modeling of datasets from social media. His 2007 paper (Wuchty, S., Jones, B. F. and Uzzi, B. (2007). ‘The increasing dominance of teams in production of knowledge’. Science, 316, 5827: 1036-1039) demonstrated the increasing dominance of team work, and he continues to be involved in team science research and education.

23 thoughts on “Team science glossary”

  1. Another glossary entry for consideration: transepistemic collaboration and synthesis.

    In a recent chapter, I suggest that “…preparing students for translational research adds complexities to transdisciplinary and team-based education. Translational teams face the challenges of synthesizing multiple disciplinary viewpoints of scholars as well as nonacademic perspectives [such as those held by community-based professionals, lay citizens, government decision makers]. Transepistemic synthesis (bridging academic and nonacademic knowledge cultures) is even more complex than transdisciplinary integration of academic perspectives, alone. Also, translational collaborations aimed at transforming social and environmental conditions require normative competence and ethical sensibilities among team members—values that take considerable time to nurture but receive little attention in many training programs. Looking to the future, it is important to build ethics training and humanistic perspectives (e.g., rooted in philosophy and/or the arts) into translational research programs spanning the behavioral, social, environmental, and health sciences.”

    Arnim Wiek at ASU and colleagues emphasize the importance of building normative competence in sustainability students and scholars. Troy Hall, Michael O’Rourke and colleagues at MSU discuss the need for social ethics training in interdisciplinary environmental science graduate programs. Valerie Brown at ANU discusses the complexities of bridging diverse knolwedge cultures beyond those found in academia. For more discussion of transepistemic synthesis, bridging knowledge cultures, and building normative competencies in translational/transepistemic teams, see the following:

    Brown, V. A. (2005). Linking the knowledge cultures of sustainability and health. Sustainability and health: Supporting global integrity in public health. V. Brown, J. Grootjans, J. Ritchie, M. Townsend and G. Verrinder. Canberra, Australia, Allen & Unwin.

    Hall, T. E., et al. (2016). “The need for social ethics in interdisciplinary environmental science graduate programs: Results from a nation-wide survey in the United States DOI 10.1007/s11948-016-9775-0.” Science and Engineering Ethics 22.

    Stokols, D. (2018). Chapter 9, Training the next generation of social ecologists. In Social Ecology in the Digital Age – Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World. London, UK: Academic Press/Elsevier, pp. 319-349,

    Wiek, A., et al. (2011). “Key competencies in sustainability: A reference framework for academic program development.” Sustainability Science 6: 203-218.

    In my chapter noted above, I focus on the “4T’s” of 21st Century research and education: transdisciplinary, team-based, translational, and transcultural. Transepistemic synthesis and the importance of cultivating normative competence among transdisciplinary action researchers (or those engaged in integration and implementation science), become especially salient in translational and transcultural collaborations where highly diverse knowledge cultures and sociopolitical cultures are bridged in an effort to better grasp and more effectively confront societal and global problems.

  2. Two potential additions for consideration.

    Collaborative Agenda Setting: Team members can arrive in the “team work space” with different operating assumptions of how good science gets done, leaving open questions around what roles are needed, what timelines must be honored, whose input should be sought, and what final products will look like. Given many university structures (especially around funding), each team member will most likely be called upon frequently to serve as a conduit between the member’s home setting and team setting, translating any differences in operating assumptions between those spaces. Collaborative agenda setting is the explicit work of crafting agreed upon responses to open questions, directly relevant and informative to the team work, amenable to being translated between home and team settings, and ultimately advantageous for the team and home space.

    Team Writing: Writing across the disciplines will reveal differences in base literatures, methods for crafting arguments, technical practices (e.g., writing style, citation style, formatting), and assistive software (e.g., collaborative work spaces, reference managers). Some teams may wish to negotiate policies and related practices that support a team response to potential differences that emerge during team writing activities.

  3. If everyone adds or revises just one definition, this would be done in no time. My revision is to ‘collaboration’.

    Collaboration can be thought of as a process of harnessing ‘good’ differences and managing ‘bad’ ones. The ‘good’ differences are the reasons why the collaboration is taking place – they are the differences the collaboration wants to use and, often, integrate. They may be differences in knowledge, methods, theory, personality etc. But collaborators don’t just come with ‘good’ differences. Other differences – the ones that aren’t essential to the collaboration – may derail it. These may be differences in personality, epistemology, working style etc and need to be recognised and managed. Differences are not inherently ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – it depends on the purposes of the collaboration. Hence, differences in epistemology may be the ‘good’ difference to be harnessed in one collaboration, but the ‘bad’ difference to be managed in another.

    For more see:
    Bammer, G. 2008 ‘Enhancing research collaboration: Three key management challenges’ Research Policy, 37, 875-887

    Bammer, G, 2016 Collaboration, difference and busyness

  4. We have been investigating the ways that teams of interdisciplinary scientists work together since 1991. I recorded the lab meetings of molecular biologists, using both audio and video, for over year. We have analyzed the cognitive and social interactions of the scientists, supplemented by multiple interviews, drafts of publications, and grant proposals. We have investigated scientific and medical teams in the US, Canada, and Italy. We have replicated many of our findings in experimental studies, and probed the underlying mechanisms of science in individuals, dyads, and teams. For example, Dunbar, K. N. & Klahr, D. (2012). Scientific Thinking & Reasoning. K.J. Holyoak, R. Morrison (Eds.) Oxford Handbook of Thinking & Reasoning; Dunbar, K. (2002). Science as Category: Implications of InVivo Science for theories of cognitive development, scientific discovery, and the nature of science. In S. Stich & P. Carruthers (Eds.) Cognitive Models of Science. Cambridge University Press; Dunbar, K. (1995). How scientists really reason: Scientific reasoning in real-world laboratories. In R.J. Sternberg, & J. Davidson (Eds.). Mechanisms of insight. Cambridge MA: MIT press. I hope that this work contributes to greater interdisciplinary within Team Science!

    • Very cool, thanks for leaving a note here! I spent many years in molecular biology and look forward to reading and using some of the material you point us to above. Best, Sawsan

  5. Hi,

    very interesting posting!
    But how did you come to these terms? And for which kind of collaboration / teams are they specific exactly?
    We wrote a paper on project-specific terminology and the relations between them -> I miss some linguistics in your work. 😉

    All best,

    • Thanks for your feedback Kristina, and yes please, a citation, or even a link if possible, to your paper would be great. This blog is not a fully comprehensive glossary, just a first draft in some sense, so I am sure we are missing some terms and we are working on an updated version based on further research and on the wonderful feedback we have received through other comments in this blog.

      We focused on academic collaborations and used the references and resources listed above to choose the most pertinent terms and their definitions. We tried to capture those terms that would be useful for most types of academic collaborations, and more specifically to cross-disciplinary collaborations. Hope that answers your question?

  6. Also take a look at these references for add’l definitions/info to add to existing definitions:
    [Moderator note: link broken and removed in October 2021: sites[dot]google[dot]com… a… ualberta[dot]ca… rick-szostak… research… about-interdisciplinarity… definitions… defining-transdisciplinarity-and-multidisciplinarity]

    Stokols, D., Hall, K.L., Taylor, B.K., and Moser, R.P. (2008). The Science of Team Science: Overview of the Field and Introduction to the Supplement. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35, S77-S89.

    Rosenfield, P.L. (1992). The Potential of Transdisciplinary Research for Sustaining and Extending Linkages between the Health and Social-Sciences. Social Science & Medicine 35, 1343-1357.

    Wagner, C.S., Roessner, J.D., Bobb, K., Klein, J.T., Boyak, K.W., Keyton, J., Rafols, I., and Börner, K. (2011). Approaches to understanding and measuring interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR): A review of the literature. Journal of Informetrics In press, 1-13.

    Repko, A.F. (2008). Interdisciplinary research : process and theory (Los Angeles, SAGE).

    Nissani, M. (1995). Journal of Educational Thought 29: 119-126 (1995)

    Austin, W., C. Park, et al. (2008). “From interdisciplinary to transdisciplinary research: A case study.” Qualitative Health Research 18(4): 557-564.

    Eigenbrode, S.D., O’Rourke, M., Wulfhorst, J.D., Althoff, D.M., Goldberg, C.S., Merrill, K., Morse, W., Nielsen-Pincus, M., Stephens, J., Winowiecki, L., et al. (2007). Employing philosophical dialogue in collaborative science. Bioscience 57, 55-64.

    Lotrecchiano, G.R. (2011). Leadership is as Simple as A Child’s Game of Marbles: Transdisciplinarity, Learning, and Complexity in Fairsies, Keepsies and Mibs. Integral Leadership Review August 2011.

    Klein, J.T. (2014). “Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity: Keyword Meanings for Collaboration Science and Translational Medicine.” Journal of Translational Medicine and Epidemiology, 2(2): 1024.

    • Brilliant, many thanks Holly! We’ve seen some of these and tried to incorporate the ideas from them into the definitions in the glossary, but there are others in this list we haven’t seen, so thank you. One of the challenges we faced was keeping the definitions themselves to a reasonably concise length without loosing nuance and meaning, and referring to papers for longer discussions of these meanings. These papers are indeed an excellent source of added information and references. Will start on an updated version!

    • Cool – opens the way for capacity building, rather than having it all under “training”. Thanks for the input!

      • Good points. In the article referenced below, we looked at temporal processes in collaborative science in which collaboration readiness contributes to the emergence of a team’s collaborative capacity, which in turn gives rise to subsequent collaborative products. See:

        Hall, K., Stokols, D., Moser, R. et al. (2008). The collaboration readiness of transdisciplinary research teams and centers: Findings from the National Cancer Institute TREC baseline evaluation study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35(2S): 161-172.

        A related emergent property of collaborative science teams is their integrative capacity, described by Salazar, Lant, Fiore, & Salas (2012). See:

        Salazar, M. R., Lant, T., Fiore, S., & Salas, E. (2012). Facilitating innovation in diverse science teams through integrative capacity. Small Group Research 43(5): 527-558.

        Subsequent studies by Salazar & Lant have focused on the integrative capacity of team leaders

        An intrapersonal disposition that may enhance a scholar’s successful participation in cross-disciplinary teams is her or his transdisciplinary orientation, comprised of values, beliefs, attitudes, behaviors, and analytic competencies that predisposes one to engage effectivey in transdisciplinary team science and translation to practice. Transdisciplinary orientation is a personal attribute of team members that may contribute to the collaborative, integrative capacities of their teams, and their eventual scientific and translational outcomes.

        See the following re: transdisciplinary orientation:

        Stokols, D. (2018). Chapter 9, Training the next generation of social ecologists. In Social Ecology in the Digital Age – Solving Complex Problems in a Globalized World. London, UK: Academic Press/Elsevier, pp. 319-349,

        Misra, S., Stokols, D., & Cheng, L. (2015). “The transdisciplinary orientation scale: Factor structure and relation to the integrative quality and scope of scientific publications.” Journal of Translational Medicine & Epidemiology 3(2: 1042): 1-10.

  7. I love this new resource, which I’ve added to the ‘Must Read’ folder of the SciTS Mendeley Library; you should also add it to the Team Science Toolkit platform.

    Some other definitions to consider adding:

    For Collaboration, I recommend adding the stage model of collaboration/definitions from Frey, B.B., Lohmeier, J.H., Lee, S.W., and Tollefson, N. (2006). Measuring collaboration among grant partners. Am. J. Eval. 27, 383–392.

    Transdisciplinary is also commonly used to refer to scientific collaboration that extends from academe to the community, or that direct societal or community relevance. Refer to “Handbook of Transdisciplinary Research” and other references by Christian Pohl. I strongly recommend incld both definitions.

  8. Clear distinctions should be made between three distinct concepts: 1) scientific cooperation, which occurs frequently in science and can be unidirectional (from one to another), and is often acknowledged, sometimes as coauthorship, but more often as a citation or acknowledgement; 2) scientific collaboration, which involves researchers working together, but often in parallel, towards semi-dependent goals, and is bidirectional and sometimes results in co-publication; and 3) team science which involves a group of people working towards a common goal, or multidirectional, which results in a group publication. These three functions are often convolved in discussions, muddying the application of metrics that are used to describe them. You may wish to cite the following paper, commissioned by the NSF, to discuss just one aspect, or interdisciplinarity:
    Wagner, C. S., Roessner, J. D., Bobb, K., Klein, J. T., Boyack, K. W., Keyton, J., … & Börner, K. (2011). Approaches to understanding and measuring interdisciplinary scientific research (IDR): A review of the literature. Journal of informetrics, 5(1), 14-26.

    • Science can discover many things, but it still needs a definition of terms from which to start that discovery. You will find every science has a published dictionary, and some have several depending on the context in which the terms are being used, Finding the nature of things, and the relationships between them, necessitates that we know what it is we are looking at.


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