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Preparing the next generation of sustainability scientists

Alexander K. Killion, Human-Environment Systems Center, Boise State University; Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior, Boise State University
Kelley Sterle, Graduate Program of Hydrologic Sciences and Cooperative Extension, University of Nevada, Reno
Emily N. Bondank, School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, Arizona State University
Jillian R. Drabik, Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy, University of Miami, Florida
Abhinandan Bera, Department of Architecture, Pennsylvania State University
Sara Alian, Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering , Oklahoma State University
Kristen A. Goodrich, School of Social Ecology, University of California, Irvine
Marcia Hale, Department of Peace and Conflict Studies, University of North Carolina Greensboro; California Center for Sustainable Communities, UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability
Rachel A. Myer, Department of Psychology, Temple University
Quang Phung, Bioengineering Department, University of Missouri
Aaron M. Shew, Environmental Dynamics Program, University of Arkansas
Anastasia W. Thayer, Department of Agricultural Economics, Texas A&M University


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Graduate programs emerging in universities over recent decades support the advanced study of sustainability issues in complex socio-environmental systems. Constructing the problem-scope to address these issues requires graduate students to integrate across disciplines and synthesize the social and natural dimensions of sustainability. Graduate programs that are designed to foster inter- and transdisciplinary research acknowledge the importance of training students to use integrative research approaches. However, this training is not available in all graduate programs that support integrative research, often requiring students to seek external training opportunities. We present perspectives from a group of doctoral students with diverse disciplinary backgrounds conducting integrative research in universities across the United States who participated in a 10-day, National Science Foundation-funded integrative research training workshop to learn and develop socio-environmental research skills. Following the workshop, students conducted a collaborative autoethnographic study to share pre- and postworkshop research experiences and discuss ways to increase integrative research training opportunities. Results reveal that students, regardless of disciplinary background, face common barriers conducting integrative research that include: (1) lack of exposure to epistemological frameworks and team-science skills, (2) challenges to effectively include stakeholder perspectives in his/her research, and (3) variable levels of committee support to conduct integrative research. To overcome the identified barriers and advance integrative research, students recommend how training opportunities can be embedded within existing graduate programs. Students advocate that both internal and external training opportunities are necessary to support the next generation of sustainability scientists.

Key words

graduate education; integrative research; interdisciplinary; team science; training; transdisciplinary

Copyright © 2018 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087