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The Many Facets of Collaboration in Entomological Research, and Beyond

Power of Collaboration panel

The Entomological Society of America’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC) organized the Entomology 2017 Program Symposium “The Power of Cooperation: Collaborations that Facilitate Advancements in Science,” which closed with a panel discussion led by Jocelyn R. Holt, 2018 SAC vice chair, with invited speakers at the symposium. The audience was excited to discuss scientific collaborations and inquire about the most important elements to consider. (Photo credit: Carlos J. Esquivel)

By Jocelyn R. Holt, Carlos J. Esquivel, Adekunle Adesanya, and Alix Whitener

In today’s research climate, the formation of successful collaborations is crucial for success. The importance of collaboration in science is reflected in some research grant requirements for multi-author and cross-disciplinary projects. In addition, published articles in high-impact journals often require innovative research conducted by specialists from diverse fields.

As graduate students and budding scientists transition from student to professional, it is necessary to widen the scope of their research and collaborate with other scientists to maintain a competitive edge. Understanding the art and science of collaboration is essential to advance impactful and multidisciplinary research. Whether you plan to work in government, academia, industry, or nonprofit organizations, you will be involved in collaboration within, and potentially across, organizations.

Every year, the Entomological Society of America’s Student Affairs Committee (SAC), chaired by Alix Whitener in 2017, is charged with organizing the Student Symposium at ESA’s annual meeting. These symposia over the years have featured invited student speakers who present their cutting-edge research, highlighted academic professionals for their unique approach to teaching and instruction, and more.

To develop insight on establishing and maintaining healthy professional collaborations, the SAC organized a Program Symposium at Entomology 2017 titled “The Power of Cooperation: Collaborations that Facilitate Advancements in Science.” The invited symposium speakers ranged from seasoned professors to postdoctoral researchers to graduate students who have participated or initiated collaborations with others in their research and professional careers.

Pacific Branch Student Representative Adekunle W. Adesanya, a Ph.D. student at Washington State University, presented the opening remarks and reminded the audience of the benefits of collaboration. Adekunle also shared how scientific collaboration has personally enhanced his research. Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section Student Representative Carlos J. Esquivel, a Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, provided a biography and introduction for each invited speaker, who delivered presentations on their research along with stories regarding their collaborations, challenges, and outcomes. The symposium was wrapped up by a panel discussion with the speakers led by Southwestern Branch Student Representative Jocelyn R. Holt, a Ph.D. student at Texas A&M University, about advice for developing future research collaborations and how to work more effectively with colleagues.

After the talks and panel discussion, many of the audience members began networking and conversing with speakers, which was the goal of this symposium: to provide information and a platform for collaborations to begin. Since each collaborative effort is unique, the SAC would like to share with you some of the most insightful portions of recent symposium and panel discussion.

International Collaborations

When establishing collaborations, it is important to remember what skillset an individual brings to the project. Henry Fadamiro, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research in the College of Agriculture at Auburn University, emphasized that key elements of collaborations include having well-outlined expectations and project timelines. These transparent expectations have helped him to create a foreign-exchange program for students attending Auburn University, which generates connections to expand and diversify research programs.

Although some collaborations are carefully planned, Sarah Meierotto, who studies insect taxonomy in tropical ecosystems, advised students to remain flexible in their plans, especially when opportunities for international collaborations arise. Sarah added that, with current technology, DNA sequences and high quality photos of specimens are accessible for individuals all over the globe, which can facilitate the next generation of taxonomists and research collaborations.

In addition to assessing each collaborators’ skillset and outlining clear expectations of a partnership, it is essential to be considerate of cultural differences. Robert Zinna, Ph.D., a PERT postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Insect Science at the University of Arizona, explained the need for patience in communication, respect for different cultures, and an awareness of time-zone differences. He reminded us that clarity in writing emails and verbal communication is imperative, since some words or phrases may not be straightforward when literally translated into another language.

Meanwhile, Matt Jones, a Fulbright Fellow who recently embarked on a journey to New Zealand for his collaborative experience, emphasized understanding both political perspectives and environmental priorities of stakeholders involved in a project. His collaboration with sheep and cattle ranchers, other ecologists, and conservation biologists allowed him to examine the ecosystem services and potential disservices that recently introduced dung beetles will provide in the future.

Government, Industry, and Citizen Science Collaborations

In addition to international collaborations, speakers also shared their experiences working with government agencies, military service, citizen scientists, and other research universities. Katherine Todd, a Ph.D. student at Ohio State University, evaluates insect diversity and ecosystem services of insects in vacant lots intentionally converted green spaces in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio to “pocket-prairie.” She mentioned that, although not all residents are accepting of these restoration efforts, posting signs and explaining how green spaces are beneficial allows residents to better understand the purpose of the work and the benefits it has for increasing insect diversity.

Similarly, Meredith Spence Beaulieu, a Ph.D. candidate at North Carolina State University, communicates with pet owners about vector-borne diseases. Currently she works with animal shelters, veterinarians, and the general public to monitor mosquitoes and combat heartworm-disease transmission in dogs. Hence, clarity and flexibility in communication is also essential.

Sometimes collaborations come from unique opportunities. Ashley Yates is part of a innovative program called ‘Translational Plant Sciences’ at Ohio State University where she works with growers and scientists to understand how soybean-aphid biotypes and resistant soybean plant varieties interact at the molecular level. For Hee Kim, Ph.D., this collaborative opportunity came from being enlisted in the military and having only 36 months to complete his Ph.D. while working with State Park personnel to monitor the distribution of soft ticks. Hee’s words of wisdom included keeping a detailed schedule while clearly developing projects and timelines with collaborators that are realistic and achievable for both parties.

Catherine Dana, a Ph.D. student at University of Illinois, is also creating scientific bridges by working with engineers and microbiologists to create a biotechnology product. Her current collaborative research uses the structure and hydrophobic features of cicada wings to create water-repellent, antimicrobial, and self-cleaning textiles. All of these collaborations share effective communication, organization, and a desire to explore something beyond one individual’s skillset.

This message was elegantly expressed by William Walker, Ph.D., a scientist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Alnarp, Sweden, who encouraged all attendees to begin projects with group brainstorming, even in informal settings such as grabbing coffee with a colleague, since a diversity of thought facilitates the generation of ideas. He noted that often the greatest ideas come from actively communicating with others during lab meetings, beverage breaks, or lunch. “We shouldn’t underestimate the power of networking during meetings like ESA, brainstorming during lab meetings, or the informal communication with your peers,” Walker said.

Personal Collaborations

Although we tend to think of collaborations in terms of increased research productivity or international projects, our interpersonal interactions can be just as important. Throughout the symposium, speakers reminded attendees that collaborations also include teamwork activities, lab projects, mentorship, as well as communication and task-allocation in personal relationships.

An example of this is Hee Kim, Ph.D., detailing how he still prioritized time with his family, by discussing with his wife the workload while in graduate school. Hee also explained that the point of graduate school is to learn—with this message, he shadowed some of his mentees to learn skills that were relevant to his research. Katherine Todd has developed working relationships with both graduate and undergraduate students to examine the effects of converting vacant lots to pocket prairies.

And, during the panel discussion, audience member Raul F. Medina, Ph.D., from Texas A&M reminded everyone that the inquiries and conversations we have can lead to future collaborations, and that students who write their own grants may be able to participate in opportunities that would otherwise not be possible.

While each speaker has their own unique experience in developing and maintaining fruitful collaborations, they all emphasized the importance of communication, patience, understanding, and clearly developing timelines and tasks both during and after graduate school.

We invite all of our ESA colleagues to stay tuned with future SAC activities, including other symposia, the Student Debates, and our “Know Before You Go” webinar planned as a preview for Entomology 2018. We look forward to fostering our current collaborations and developing new ones to make the next annual meeting unforgettable.


Acknowledgements: We thank all of our symposium speakers for their participation and contributions of wisdom. Also, thank you to David Ragsdale, Ph.D., and the Department of Entomology at Texas A&M for providing funding for snacks and refreshments. We would also like to thank Brianne Boiling and Center Point Catering for their excellent food and service. Many thanks to Casey Parker, 2017 SAC vice chair and 2018 chair, for reviewing and editing this article.

Jocelyn Holt Jocelyn R. Holt is a Ph.D. candidate in the Raul F. Medina lab at Texas A&M University in the Department of Entomology and 2018 ESA Student Affairs Committee vice chair and Southwestern Branch student representative. She is interested in assessing the role mutualisms play in facilitating invasive species establishment success. In addition, her research interests include the role that genetic composition may play in how mutualisms are established. This research will allow for a better understanding of invasive species success by characterizing potential beneficial microbes and establish a foundation for assessing the role genetic composition plays in mutualisms among invasive pest species. Email: holtjocelyn@tamu.edu
 Carlos Esquivel Carlos J. Esquivel is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Entomology at Ohio State University. He is the Plant-Insect Ecosystems Section representative to the ESA Student Affairs Committee  and the student representative at the Governing Council of P-IE. His graduate work is focused on the control of soybean aphid and insecticide resistance to thiamethoxam. In addition, he is interested on the tri-trophic interactions of neonicotinoids and predatory natural enemies of aphids. After obtaining his doctoral degree, Carlos would like to pursue his career working with the agrochemical industry. Email: esquivelpalma.1@buckeyemail.osu.edu
 Kunle Adesanya Adekunle Adesanya is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Entomology at Washington State University and also the Pacific Branch representative to the ESA Student Affairs Committee. His research focuses on arthropod adaptation to natural and synthetic pesticides. Currently, Kunle is working on characterizing acaricide resistance in the twospotted spider mite on hops and peppermints in the Pacific Northwest in the United States. Kunle is dedicated to using the triad of research, teaching, and extension for pest management and food security. Email: adekunle.adesanya@wsu.edu
Alix Whitener Alix Whitener served as the 2017 ESA Student Affairs Committee Chair and is a former Pacific Branch student representative to the SAC. Alix is currently a Ph.D. candidate advised by Elizabeth Beers, Ph.D., at Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee, Washington. Her dissertation research spans the integrated pest management spectrum regarding spotted-wing drosophila. The theme for the 2017 Student Symposium came from her collaborative experience at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, where she completed a chemical ecology internship with professor Peter Witzgall, Ph.D. Alix anticipates graduating in Spring 2018 to pursue a career in industry. Email: alix.crilly@wsu.edu

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