We are a group of scientists in a biology department. What comes naturally to us when we have a question we want to answer? Collecting data.
Our group, in collaboration with a faculty-trainee working group, distributed a Climate Survey to trainees in — or affiliated with — our department. The faculty leader of the faculty-trainee working group pulled many of the questions from the Department of Defense’s sexual harassment survey (Bastian, Lancaster, and Reyst 1996), and distributed them to the rest of the group for feedback. Then she met with several trainees from the faculty-trainee working group to hone the questions. Finally, she created, distributed, and managed the survey through Qualtrics. Our institution has a subscription to Qualtrics; if yours does not, there are some free survey sites you can use that will keep responses anonymous, including SurveyMonkey and Google Forms.
The questions our group wanted to answer were: Is there a problem? And, if so, what is it? We considered the survey to represent our department’s baseline climate. We are working towards improving communication and reducing conflict with a variety of action items. The only way to know if our work is improving anything is to collect data periodically and look for changes over time.
Sharing efforts and outcomes
We not only wanted the data resulting from the climate survey for our group, to better cater to the needs of our department trainees, but also to keep our department informed about its performance. We approached this sharing of results in a couple ways to reach a broad audience.
- The leader of the faculty-trainee working group distributed and presented results to faculty at a regular faculty meeting in a ~20-minute presentation. The slides mainly consisted of a description of the data collection methods and simple bar charts depicting proportions and counts of responses. The faculty presenter categorized results based on whether she thought they were promising or worrisome, and a short discussion (~15 min) occurred afterward among faculty.
- A representative of our group presented results to trainees in a special meeting organized specifically to discuss the results. This presentation also contained simple figures depicting the results, separated by gender and “status” (student vs. post-doc) to highlight areas where subsets of trainees may be experiencing more pronounced conflict. Although we did not include race/ethnicity questions in our survey, in retrospect this would have been beneficial; we could have evaluated whether underrepresented ethnic groups experience more conflict in our department.
- We created a simple infographic highlighting some of the problematic areas we discovered and presented it at a poster session at our annual departmental research symposium. We also distributed much of the raw data along with the infographic department trainees, along with a short reminder/description.
Climate survey results for trainees