Foundations of a translational health sciences doctoral program

Community member post by Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano and Paige L. McDonald

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Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano (biography)

How can doctoral studies be developed to include innovation in practice and research, as well as systems and complexity thinking, along with transdisciplinarity? This blog post is based on our work introducing a PhD in Translational Health Sciences at George Washington University in the USA.

Innovation in Practice and Research

We suggest that innovation in practice and research is achieved by the integration of knowledge in three key foundational disciplines:

  • translational research
  • collaboration sciences
  • implementation science (Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

We define these as follows:

Translational research is a crosscutting approach that informs associations across a continuum of knowledge generation from basic biomedical discovery to rehabilitation interventions to global population health impact.

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Paige L. McDonald (biography)

Collaboration sciences form the foundation by which translational research is conducted and when implemented along with practice and policy efforts ensure that translational science can occur with strong representation of multi-stakeholders invested in health outcomes.

Implementation science is the investigation of processes and strategies influencing the movement of evidence-based healthcare and prevention strategies or programs from the clinical or public health knowledge base into routine use.

When considered together, these provide a recipe for high impact in innovations research and practice (see figure below from Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

These three disciplines support innovations in health practices and research necessary to promote changes at the organizational, team and individual levels. All three are reflected in the overall program goals and were used to inform curriculum competencies. The aim is to prepare students to move from more basic approaches to research to those that are more systems based, as shown in the following figure (from Lotrecchiano et al., 2016).

 

 

Pairing complexity principles with transdisciplinary characteristics

Moving to a more systems-based approach requires the pairing of complexity principles with transdisciplinary characteristics to develop scientists equipped to operate beyond the confines of traditional or unidisciplinary training. These are illustrated in the table below, with complexity principles in the left hand column and transdisciplinary characteristics in the right hand column. We feel that introducing doctoral students to these principles allows them to participate in translational trandisciplinary research activities.

Complexity principles (left hand column) and transdisciplinary characteristics (right hand column) –  full references are available in Lotrecchiano (2012)

Conclusion

Readers may be interested in our doctoral student handbook (PDF 1.1MB). Our work to establish and maintain our approach to doctoral studies in this vein continues and we have enjoyed both successes and setbacks, but mostly successes, as we transform the way we approach this particular type of doctoral training amidst the healthcare and research climate in the United States.

We invite your comments and questions and hope to hear from you about your experiences.

To find out more:
Lotrecchiano, G. R., McDonald, P. L., Corcoran, H. K. and Ekmekci, O. (2016). Learning Theory, Operative Model, and Challenges in Developing a Framework for Collaborative Translational and Implementable Doctoral Research. Conference proceedings, 9th Annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation, 14-16 November, 2016, Seville: Spain. Online via Researchgate – 311363970

Reference:
Lotrecchiano, G. R . (2012). Social Mechanisms of Team Science: A Descriptive Case Study Using a Multilevel Systems Perspective Employing Reciprocating Structuration Theory. Doctoral dissertation, George Washington University: Washington DC United States of America. Online: https://pqdtopen.proquest.com/pqdtopen/doc/992950947.html?FMT=ABS

Biography: Gaetano R. Lotrecchiano, EdD PhD is an Associate Professor at the George Washington University (GWU) School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington DC USA, where he is the Director of Doctoral Candidacy in the PhD in Translational Health Sciences Program. He is the vice-president of the International Society for Systems and Complexity Sciences for Health and of the International Society of the Science of Team Science. He is the convener of the GWU program entitled Creating a Culture of Collaboration at GWU. He is also the Team Science Lead of the Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI-CN), a partnership between Children’s National Health System and George Washington University.

Biography: Paige L. McDonald, EdD is an Assistant Professor at the George Washington (GW) University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, Washington DC USA, where she is the Director of Curriculum in the PhD in Translational Health Sciences Program. She is the Managing Director for the GW IMPACT Initiative and GW Collaboratory for Health Research and Education. She is also the Secretary of the International Society for Systems and Complexity Sciences for Health.

Lessons from “real-world laboratories” about transdisciplinary projects, transformative research and participation

Community member post by Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

antonietta-di-giulio
Antonietta Di Giulio (biography)
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Rico Defila (biography)

In Germany there has recently been a heated debate about the need for, and the justification of, so-called “transformative research”. At the same time, German funders are increasingly supporting research in “real-world laboratories” and these explicitly aim to bring about social change. We lead an accompanying research project (“Begleitforschung” in German) in a real-world laboratory program of research in Baden-Württemberg (see Schäpke et al., (2015) for more information). This has led us to reflect upon the relationship between transdisciplinary research and transformative research, and how this impacts on how we think about participation in research. We share some preliminary ideas here.
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Doing a transdisciplinary PhD? Four tips to convince the examiners about your data

Community member post by Jane Palmer, Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Jenny Kent

How can research writing best be crafted to present transdisciplinarity? How can doctoral candidates effectively communicate to examiners a clear understanding of ‘data’, what it is and how the thesis uses it convincingly?

The authors have all recently completed transdisciplinary doctorates in the field of sustainable futures and use this experience to highlight the challenges of crafting a convincing piece of research writing that also makes claims of transdisciplinarity (Palmer et al., 2018). We propose four strategies for working with data convincingly when undertaking transdisciplinary doctoral research.

1. Make the data visible and argue for the unique or special way in which the data will be used

Some of the comments received from our examiners reflected a sense of being provided with insufficient data, or that it was not convincing as data.

It is important that the nature of data for the purposes of the research is clearly defined, and presented in a way that demonstrates its value in the research process. Richer contextualization of the data can help to make clear its value. This can include drawing attention to the remoteness of the field location, the rare access gained to the participants, and/or the unusual or special qualities of the data that make an original contribution to knowledge.

In these and other cases, it may be important to explain how a particular kind of data can valuably inform an argument qualitatively without reference to minimum quantitative thresholds. This is particularly relevant where a transdisciplinary doctoral candidate is crossing between physical/natural science, humanities and social science disciplines.

2. Be creative and explore the possibilities enabled by a broad interpretation of ‘data’

The advantage conferred on the candidate in taking a transdisciplinary approach needs to be made evident to the examiners, especially where there may appear to have been an absorption of the ‘data’ in the wider synthesizing narratives that are typical of transdisciplinary writing.

Adopting more creative writing techniques may help the examiner both to see the data, and to see the research as valuable. Transdisciplinary doctoral candidates may, given the complex feat of communication this requires, find it useful to seek training in creative writing or science communication skills.

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Jane Palmer (biography)

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Dena Fam (biography)

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Tanzi Smith (biography)

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Jenny Kent (biography)

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Is it legitimate for transdisciplinary research to set out to change society?

Community member post by Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

antonietta-di-giulio
Antonietta Di Giulio (biography)
rico-defila
Rico Defila (biography)

An unspoken and unchallenged assumption underpinning much discourse about transdisciplinary research is that it must change society.

The assumption goes beyond whether research should contribute to change, or whether research impacts developments in society, or whether research should investigate societal problems and provide solutions, or anything similar – it is that research should actively and intentionally be transformative. This generally goes hand-in-hand with a deep conviction that researchers are entitled to actually change society according to what they believe to be right. For many this conviction allows researchers to impose their interventions and solutions on other societal actors by, if necessary, being manipulative. Continue reading

Non-certified experts, stakeholders, practitioners… What participants are called defines transdisciplinarity

Community member post by Antonietta Di Giulio and Rico Defila

rico-defila
Rico Defila (biography)
antonietta-di-giulio
Antonietta Di Giulio (biography)

In an actor-oriented understanding of transdisciplinary research, there are basically two types of actors: those in the academic system who ensure scientific rigor and who are responsible for project outcomes, usually called ‘researchers’ – and ‘the others’. ‘The others’ lacks precision and even a superficial review of the literature reveals multiple ways of describing them. We highlight a selection of these below (the emphasis in the quotations is ours). Continue reading

Using the concept of risk for transdisciplinary assessment

Community member post by Greg Schreiner

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Greg Schreiner (biography)

Global development aspirations, such as those endorsed within the Sustainable Development Goals, are complex. Sometimes the science is contested, the values are divergent, and the solutions are unclear. How can researchers help stakeholders and policy-makers use credible knowledge for decision-making, which accounts for the full range of trade-off implications?

‘Assessments’ are now commonly used. Following their formal adoption by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) in the early 1990s, they have been used at the science-society-policy interface to tackle global questions relating to biodiversity and ecosystems services, human well-being, ozone depletion, water management, agricultural production, and many more. Continue reading