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Five Elements to Keep Your Working Group Active

1 February 2015 208 views One Comment
Jamie Nunnelly, National Institute of Statistical Sciences Communications Director
From left: Martin Tingley, Liz Mannshardt, Bo Li, Peter Craigmile, and Murali Haran

The paleoclimate group, from left: Martin Tingley, Liz Mannshardt, Bo Li, Peter Craigmile, and Murali Haran

The Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI), a National Science Foundation–funded institute, typically holds one to two major programs each year. During the opening workshops, working groups are formed and then meet on a regular basis to collaborate on a particular research subject of interest. While most groups dissipate after the research program is formally over, others are still active, even several years later.

One group may take the cake for meeting the longest on a regular basis. The paleoclimate group, now known as the “Paleo Family,” began meeting as part of the 2009–2010 program on Space-Time Analysis for Environmental Mapping, Epidemiology, and Climate Change. The group includes former SAMSI postdocs Bala Rajaratnam (assistant professor at Stanford University), Martin Tingley (assistant professor at Penn State University), Elizabeth Mannshardt (postdoctoral fellow at North Carolina State University), and Murali Haran (associate professor at Penn State University), along with Bo Li (associate professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) and Peter Craigmile (associate professor at The Ohio State University).

What is the key to their success? Two of the six participants, Rajaratnam and Mannshardt, recently visited SAMSI and gave the following reasons for why this group has been so successful:

  • Interesting area of research. The scientific question is what glues the group together.
  • Open-mindedness. It helps that most of the people in the group were willing to go outside their areas of expertise.
  • Different skill sets. The group members work in a range of fields, encompassing statistical methodology, applications, and theory. Each person brings different strengths and insights to the group. Diversity is key: We come from six countries across four continents, so our discussions and the research draws from varied experiences in different cultures.
  • Discussions about how to think about the problem. Much of what we spend time on is figuring out how to frame the problems we work on and to make a judgment about what may be most important and scientifically relevant to the paleo community. “There are not straight-forward answers. It takes us much thought and discussion to get our heads around these questions,” said Mannshardt.
  • A sense of humor. Everyone can take a joke. “I look forward to our meetings,” said Rajaratnam. “We always poke fun at each other, but not in a harmful way. It is always a lot of fun.”

For more information about the paleoclimate working group, contact Tingley at mpt14@psu.edu.

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