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J. G. Milton, A. E. Radunskaya, A. H. Lee, L. G. de Pillis and D. F. Bartlett. 2010. Team research at the biology-mathematics interface: Project management perspectives. CBE-Life Sciences Education 9: 316-322. Full Article

The success of interdisciplinary research teams depends largely upon skills related to team performance. We evaluated student and team performance for undergraduate biology and mathematics students who participated in summer research projects conducted in off-campus laboratories. The student teams were composed of a student with a mathematics background and an experimentally oriented biology student. The team mentors, who were blinded to the students prior academic record, typically ranked the students performance very good to excellent over a range of attributes that included creativity and ability to conduct independent research. In contrast, evaluation of team performance indicated that the research teams did not function well in terms of basic project management skills including preparation of a work plan with defined deliverables and deadlines, clear delegation of responsibilities, a proactive plan for problem solving, and an understanding of project scope. Thus typical undergraduate biology and mathematics students do not have the skill sets required to effectively perform within an interdisciplinary research team. Since project management skills can be readily taught and moreover typically reflect good research practices, it should be possible to make simple modifications to undergraduate curricula so that the promise of initiatives, such as MATH-BIO 2010, can be implemented.

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