Learning from Interdisciplinary Collaboration

July 11, 2022
Junna Wang NRWD HL (1)

One of my favorite Chinese proverbs is from Tao Te Ching (Lao Tzu): “the supreme goodness is like water. It benefits all things and does not compete with them. It flows in places that others disdain, where it is in harmony with the way.” Inspired by the virtue of water and the importance of water to life on Earth, I chose water resources engineering and freshwater ecology as my primary research areas. Among freshwater ecosystems, I like streams and rivers the most because I think a person’s life is analogous to a stream. Although it has flashy and rough episodes, it continuously and firmly flows towards a larger river, with the ultimate goal of arriving at the ocean. Owing to my passion for streams, the first chapter of my PhD dissertation investigates how climate change and drought alter the rhythm of natural flow regimes and influence the long-term stability of ecological communities in a desert stream. This research aligns perfectly with the topic of this year’s NRWD fellowship—endangered streams: building strong and authentic bridges between science and practice to understand impacts of future water flows on aquatic ecosystems.

Earlier this year, our cohort decided on a group project titled, Restoring Endangered Streams: The Management of Land Use, Process-Based Stream Restoration, and Water Policy Amidst Climate Change. This is truly an interdisciplinary project, integrating the expertise of each group member, including hydrology, ecology, climate, social and political science. Reaching a consensus on what we should focus on, and writing a very comprehensive proposal together, has been a challenging, but productive process. Most people in our group have never conducted a highly interdisciplinary research project before. The two-day workshop we attended in Fall 2021, on team science and organized by our team advisors, was really helpful to prepare us for the upcoming challenges of building a strong team and finishing this project. Our team members are extremely collaborative—they are willing to learn from each other, which makes me, an international student, feel very welcomed and delighted to be part of this research team.

Over the past ten months, I have learned a lot through interacting with my team members and advisors. For example, I am now more confident in facilitating a group meeting with my cohort. This was a big challenge for me at the beginning of this project, because of language and cross-disciplinary barriers. Additionally, my knowledge about climate change, stream restoration, and water policy is significantly expanded through the biweekly discussions, and the many resources shared by our team advisors during these meetings. I believe the skills I’ve acquired, through organizing an interdisciplinary meeting and designing effective questionnaires to engage with stakeholders, will greatly benefit my future career as an engineer and ecologist in freshwater science. Lastly, and perhaps most important, over the course of the research experience my perspective changed from “what I would like to do for this project” to “how I can contribute to the team project and make it great as a whole.” This experience makes me rethink the well-known Chinese proverb mentioned at the beginning: water benefits all the things and does not complete with them. Perhaps this is also one secret of doing productive collaborative research. I thank the SW CASC for training and guiding our interdisciplinary team!

Junna Wang NRWD HL (2)