Becoming a 21st Century Scientist: Cognitive Practices, Identity Formation, and Learning in Integrative Systems Biology

Principal Investigator: 
Project Overview
Background & Purpose: 

The purpose of the study is to investigate cognitive and learning practices in research laboratories in the emerging transdisciplinary field of integrative systems biology and to translate findings about the ecological features that support successful learning there into a problem-driven learning graduate course that will serve a population that comprises computer modelers, systems biologists, and engineers. We are especially interested in 1) how researchers negotiate the problem of needing to be deeply trained in at least one discipline, but deeply conversant in the others and 2) how the adoption of specific cognitive practices in a transdisciplinary field relates to identity formation as a STEM researcher and the impact of this on research.


We are studying two university research laboratories. One conducts only computational modeling and simulation; the other combines biological research, engineering, and computational modeling.

Research Design: 

The research design for this project is longitudinal and comparative, and is designed to generate evidence which is descriptive (Case study, Design research, Ethnography, Observational, and Cognitive-historical). This project collects original data using diaries/journals/records kept by study subjects and observation (personal and videography) and unstructured interviews.

We use qualitative methods of analysis. We approach coding of field notes, interviews, and meetings analytically and inductively, enabling core categories (and eventually ‘theory’) to emerge from the data and grounded in it, while being broadly guided by our initial research questions. To ensure the ‘trustworthiness’ of our analyses we will follow Eisner’s (2003) three principles: structural corroboration, referential adequacy, and consensual validation.


Project findings will be added as they become available.

Other Products: 

We will create a problem-driven learning course for PhD students in ISB with problems and scaffolding designed to help them to integrate biology, computational modeling, and engineering.

Target Population: 
Research Design: 


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