- What does a modern university have in its disposal that is the most rewarding for team work today and what is still to be developed to achieve new goals?
- Rewarding is not something I would want to start with, talking about team work, as it come as the result of some actions. I would start with motivation. Those are different things and I believe that an opportunity of self-actualization as a member of a group is the real motive here. An individual can unlock his or her personal potential, which is difficult to do under any other conditions. People can prove themselves as leaders or find creative capabilities, which are not demanded in their everyday life. Experience has shown us that university people are highly motivated by such things as new complicated problems they are asked to solve along with other members of a team or the opportunity to do some work that usually is not their responsibility. Another thing that can motivate very well is a properly organized space (environment). That we understood from how faculty staff and students responded to the appearance of new research and 24/7 halls at the TSU Research Library. Those places were empty because the Internet made it possible to work with resources remotely. Reconstruction of the halls brought people back. Today, these places are always full.
Comfortable and well equipped environment stimulates individual work. Another thing people can do is booking co-working spaces to work on a project or an idea. The fact that the place attracts so many people makes us develop it furthermore.
Let us get back to rewarding team work. We are discussing the possibility of establishing a system of university grands. Those may appear in the form of financial support; as invitations to big and important events; as an opportunity to use certain equipment; and some other stuff. Moral encouragement is another form of rewarding that is valued by employees. For most people it is very important, when the community acknowledges their achievements. They appreciate the attention their colleagues pay to the results of their work.
Talking about the most promising forms of team work, in my opinion, those are interdisciplinary research, developing open online courses (MOOC), carrying out projects for partner organizations, and launching students’ startups. Those represent the main types of activity of any university: scientific, educational, and entrepreneurial. We try to do it all. The first two have become integral parts of our everyday work and we have a lot to be proud of.
The rest are still to be worked on in terms of particular results such as new products and technologies, as well as new weak ties I talked about in the first part of this interview. All those types of activity are mostly, with few exceptions, carried out by individuals. But it requires team efforts, when members are responsible for certain areas of work. They need to complete each other and be able to cooperate, which is one of the most important soft skills that is demanded by all big corporations and companies. By developing team work we help our employees and graduates to self-actualize.
- Traditionally, one of the soft spots we have at our universities is weak interdisciplinary ties and low level of engaging students in joint work. How can we establish interdisciplinary research teams? Do you see any potential in combined teams? What does TSU do in this regard?
- First of all, I want to say that the very opportunity to work interdisciplinarily in science is often discussed and argued against. Despite the evident potential of interdisciplinarity, described in multiple Russian and international publications, some researchers believe that it cannot be applied in science as there is no meta-language to describe interdisciplinary research. In other words, the discipline, whose language is used to describe the final results of some research work, turns out to be dominating at the end of the day. Therefore, it is possible to say that some disciplines can “interfuse” the others, but it is impossible to talk about the real interdisciplinarity. I think that the latter must be and should be understood not only as “equal” integration of various disciplines aimed at solving some problem, but as some interaction of disciplines that have different statuses comparing to each other, depending on a situation.
As the result of this interaction new knowledge may appear that has no chance to occur being searched for by the means of a single discipline. Even if this new knowledge is described in the language of the “dominating” discipline, it does not deprive it of its theoretical and practical value. Therefore, the role of interdisciplinary projects and the research teams that carry them out is difficult to overestimate. Developing the meta-language is an ontological and management problem, whose solution depends on how the communication environment of interdisciplinary research is organized.
At TSU we have established so-called Strategic Academic Units (StrAUs) in order to create such an environment. At present, we have four StrAUs: : the Siberian Institute of the Future (SIF); the Institute of Biomedicine (IB); the Institute of the Human of the Digital Era (IHDE); and the Institute of Smart Materials and Technology (SMTI). They include various laboratories with our staff, visiting professors from leading Russian and international universities, and experts from international networks as members. Each StrAU is a big international team that unites people focused around solving particular problems in working groups. Acknowledged researchers, young researchers, and students work together in them.
The idea of StrAUs is based on the assumption that new scientific interdisciplinary knowledge they come up with is immediately integrated to new interdisciplinary (local and international) master’s degree and post-graduate programmes. The areas the research is focused on are connected with the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Many universities consider it a problem that bachelors who enter master’s degree programmes have degrees in unrelated areas. But if the educational process is properly organized, this may be a chance to look at everything through paradigms of various scientific disciplines and professional spheres. The ability to use this opportunity leads to developing interdisciplinary teams that unite professors and students.
The principles our interdisciplinary research and educational group work is based on are the same, described in books by leading experts in management. I would emphasize the following principles:
1) Adaptivity of a scientific concept under formation based on solid values that the team is guided in their work by. Adaptivity refers to continuous adjustment, according to changing contexts inside and outside their work.
2) Psychological security and the atmosphere of trust that guarantees the freedom necessary to show curiosity, to admit personal mistakes, and to be ready to work under the conditions of ambiguity.
3) Constant exchange of knowledge and information in offline and online communication.
4) Absence of prepared educational frames, experiment as the main means of education.
Besides the StrAUs, we have another way to promote interdisciplinarilty at TSU. We hold interdisciplinary seminars on various themes, conducted by professors who are heads of interdisciplinary research projects. They share their achievements and their experience in solving problems connected with carrying out such type of projects. Usually, there are over 100 people in the audience.
Each time, they receive some tips on how to organize communication environment that helps to create interdisciplinary teams.
This is how stimulating interdisciplinary ties and creating appropriate spaces become a new strategic challenge for universities.