Field Note No. 7: Digital Collaboration Tools Are Great, But Do They Reinforce Lone Scholar Behaviors?

Friday is generally the day I set aside for new projects and endeavors–although if I’m truly honest, it is the day I set aside for urgent or timely projects that have the potential to consume a good part of the day. One of the reasons why I do this with my schedule is because most of my projects involve collaborating with people of all different disciplinary backgrounds and walks of life, and Friday is the day that more-often-than-not I am able to find alignment between all involved parties for face-to-face brainstorming, strategizing, or writing sessions. Today was one of these days.

For the past month, a good part of my conscious thoughts have been consumed with grant proposals. For those of you familiar with the particular vein of research that I do–science communication, or how academics talk to one another and communicate their ideas to the public–you won’t be surprised that most of my projects of late (which yes, are the reason I haven’t been blogging as much) involve people from all over the the country and in many different parts of campus. As usual. I am the crazy person who likes to bring other crazy people together. I LOVE building teams and seeing how they form, storm, norm, and perform. What can I say, I love grant season!


For many of us, group work at home or in the classroom is not the most pleasant of experiences. As a child, I hated group work and would go to any lengths possible to avoid it. In adulthood, however, I have grown to love it. Part of my change of heart came as a result of growing up and learning about the benefits of many minds making light work, but it was primarily a result of my training and praxis as a Project Manager. In a future post I’ll share about that journey for me and the process I took to becoming a certified Project Management Professional, but today I find myself reflecting on how much of our success as teams in communicating with one another (because communication, after all, makes up over 80% of Project Management) in our digital age requires our use of tools to bridge both geography and time-based factors. In my experience, over-scheduling is actually the most common reason for needing to use the online conference room or office.

Telecommuting is a concept that most of us are quite familiar with, and one that most of us have used at one point or another to project ourselves into the offices, living rooms, or conference rooms of the people we want to see and hear in conversation. Finding the right tool for you in that process is, in my opinion, one of the best first steps for successful virtual collaboration and distance team cohesion.

Zoom is that tool for me. It has many different resources that I have and am continuing to learn to leverage that make it an amazing collaboration and RESEARCH data collection tool. I first learned about Zoom from a scientist I was working with as a Program Manager. The notion of having a virtual conference room was something that resonated with him for everything from writing sessions to your garden-variety meeting, and it helped to facilitate his lab’s success in working with other teams across the country.

Since starting my own lab and having to coordinate big projects and even bigger proposals, I too have grown to love Zoom for writing dates, brainstorming sessions, and even to conduct interviews for some of my research. I use it to conduct training sessions and webinars, meetings, and sometimes even just to record myself thinking aloud and whiteboarding ideas.

Emerging Insights

As I write this reflection, I’m do wonder if I might rely on digital tools like Zoom too much. I find it EXTREMELY convenient and am slightly worried that if I’m not careful that a virtual meeting via Zoom might become a replacement for physical interactions with my colleagues and friends. Thus, I am reminded that with technology making it ever-increasingly easy to meet with anyone in the world whenever I need it that I really do need to also schedule in face-to-face meetings/opportunities more. Creating opportunities for in-person interaction is something for me to practice with both my ongoing research and future team opportunities. In fact, it is something that we’re baking into one of our proposal–maybe it’s not so hard to take our own medicine when we can see it finally working.