Thu 8 Jul 2010
A grad student, a post-doc, and a visiting scientist walk into a lab. What happens? Well, better science! Better, that is, than for a group composed of all post-docs, or all grad students, or all scientists from the same institution, according to Denise Loyd (left), an assistant professor at MIT’s Sloan School of Management.
Loyd, who studies the effects of diversity in groups, presented her research last week in a talk sponsored by the Woods Hole Diversity Initiative. Loyd provided evidence that the presence of diversity in a group strengthens discussions in which final group decisions are made. Groups in which a majority of members fall into one category (based on race, background, institution affiliation, etc.), while a minority fall into another, put more time and thought into their conclusions.
We might assume the benefits of diversity in groups are solely attributable to the unique perspectives of the minority members. However, Loyd’s research shows that the simple existence of diversity can alter group dynamics in such a way that brings out different, positive behaviors in majority members, such as showing greater openness to others’ ideas.
Loyd also emphasized the importance of seeking out the unique strengths of members who may have lower perceived status in a group, such as undergraduates working in a lab with graduate students and post-docs. Her talk will no doubt prove useful to Woods Hole scientists and other community members seeking to strengthen group efforts. It also might help explain why the peer-to-peer dynamic in the MBL’s courses—where students problem-solve real-world research problems alongside some of the world’s top scientists—is often so energizing and productive.
Loyd’s talk was part of a Woods Hole Diversity Initiative event series called “Synergy and the Group; the Hidden Power of Diversity.” For more information on upcoming events, visit http://www.woodsholediversity.org/.