Who to Work with?

I began working with scientists and engineers through a series of grants and grant applications. Work on climate science is often multi-disciplinary and the NSF has a long history of supporting interdisciplinary research, particularly in the domain of coupled natural and human systems.2 That meant that many climate scientists were already working on multi- or inter-disciplinary teams. Granted, none of them had any experience working with someone from the humanities. The nature of climate science, with its complex uncertainties and high level of risks, however, resulted in most climate scientists being quite clear that their work had ethical import. That clarity opened a door of opportunity for me that I was able to transform into a much broader engagement with climate science and the epistemic and ethical issues that are embedded in it.

Having met a number of climate scientists through my participation on an application for a Carbon Cycle Integrated Graduate Education and Research Training NSF grant, I realized that an effective way to cultivate partnerships would be through grants. This insight led me to partner with two different teams of scientists by writing and getting funding through two NSF Ethics Education in Science and Engineering (EESE) grants. Grants are not only a required component of the portfolio of scientists and engineers, but the grant also provides salary support for their collaboration. These two grants provided me with over six years of experience in direct collaboration with a group of scientists. From that experience, I identified scientists who were interested in collaborative partnerships, and through those partnerships we identified research approaches that led to the development of the SCRiM team and to the embedded practice of coupled epistemic-ethical analysis.

I’ve come away with several lessons about creating effective partnerships. First, you have to really enjoy working with your collaborators. It takes a lot of time for philosophers to nurture and develop effective collaborations with scientists and engineers. In work style, and even in disposition, you need to have a good fit, that is, someone with whom you enjoy working and who enjoys working with you. Second, they need to be open to learning from and with you. As much time as I put into developing a good understanding of climate change science, my primary collaborator, Klaus Keller, put into reading philosophy articles that I sent his way in order for us to be able to (a) craft our transdis-ciplinary approach, (b) know who else to put on the team to enhance the work, and (c) train postdoctoral researchers and graduate students so that they could contribute to the transdisciplinary efforts. Third, you have to have a good fit in terms of working style and leadership strategies.

One of the challenges I faced in creating partnerships was the particular nature of the philosophy department at Penn State. For all its strengths, it is a continental and history of philosophy focused department and, as a consequence, we have few graduate students with an interest in learning about or contributing to the transdisciplinary research of SCRiM or of ViFF. I was able to surmount this obstacle by hiring postdoctoral researchers trained in philosophy and with skill sets that disposed them to working within the collaborative environments of SCRiM and ViFF. The plus side of this was extending the range of philosophers with whom I worked. The challenge, however, was having another set of philosophers, in addition to the graduate students whom I advise, who needed mentoring, training, and, eventually, job placement. At Penn State, faculty are not given credit for dissertation advisees, either in the form of course release time or for our merit reviews. The same was the case for my postdocs, resulting in a significant increase in my workload?

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