Building community in STEM: collaboration, connection, and culture change

The Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement trains and supports community managers so they can develop and grow communities in STEM. Career development resources range from learning about strategy to acquiring skills such as communications, conflict resolution, or facilitation.
Building community in STEM: collaboration, connection, and culture change

If you’re reading this blog post, chances are you are a scientist who is a member of the FEBS Network community. And you are not alone. Scientists all over the globe are part of communities and collaborations large and small. Communities exist to facilitate cross-disciplinary research (e.g., ASRC, IGAC, Urban@UW), offer support during career transitions (e.g, Open Post Academics), and move forward issues of inclusion (e.g., STEP UP) and research transparency (e.g., ASAPbio, OpenWIN). Most of all, communities forge connections – across disciplines, institutions, and borders.

Communities rarely, if ever, arise spontaneously and thrive indefinitely. They require infrastructure, and that includes people to get them off the ground and keep them going: human infrastructure. At the Center for Scientific Collaboration and Community Engagement (CSCCE), we refer to the people working in human infrastructure roles as “scientific community engagement managers,” although there is a whole range of job titles associated with similar work (e.g., program manager, outreach specialist, engagement coordinator, etc.).

At CSCCE, we work to support community managers by offering professional development training, a free community of practice, and a resource library, as well as working on a consultancy basis with a number of organizations and grant-funded projects. We also conduct research in an effort to better understand the career paths of community managers in STEM and to learn more about different types of STEM communities.

Career development for community managers

As the role of community manager has become more formalized in academia, industry, and professional societies over the past 5+ years, we have been able to conduct research and map trends. For example, we know that the profession is currently dominated by women, many of whom hold advanced degrees (Masters and/or PhDs) in a STEM discipline, and that individuals frequently are alone in their organizations in focusing on community projects. 

The transition from PhD to community management, though common, is not always easy. Advanced degrees produce highly trained and independent professionals, but rarely are these individuals trained in community engagement strategy or related skills (e.g., communications, conflict resolution, or facilitation). For more than five years now, we have worked to offer this training, first through our Community Engagement Fellowship Program and then through our multi-week online training Scientific Community Engagement Fundamentals (CEF). To date, we have trained almost 300 community managers and impacted more than 250 different STEM organizations (meet some of our alums!). A larger, multicomponent Community Manager Certification Program for graduates of these trainings is coming later this year. 

Underpinning CSCCE’s trainings are a number of core frameworks, which we have published as guidebooks and tip sheets that are free to download from our website. Our CSCCE Community Participation Model is a great example of one of these frameworks, with three guidebooks that explore how to use the model to guide your community programming, ways of empowering community champions, and the different kinds of scaffolding you can employ to support the growth and maintenance of a community.

If you are thinking about your next career move and are curious about what it looks like to be a community manager, we have a couple of additional resources you might find useful. The first is the CSCCE Skills Wheel, which breaks the skills of the job down into five core competencies each with nine discrete skills. And the second is our collection of 25 community manager case studies; interviews with working community managers in a range of organizational settings and at different stages of their careers. 

A community of practice for ongoing peer support

As well as our training program, we host a free community of practice in Slack. This online community convenes more than 500 community managers, and is a supportive space for asking and answering questions, sharing resources, and getting to know other professionals in similar roles. It is intended to offer community managers the kind of peer-to-peer mentoring that they might be missing as the sole community manager on a project. 

If you are currently building or nurturing a community in STEM, you can request an invitation to the Slack group here. After you request an invite, you’ll hear from our Communications Director, Katie Pratt, who will guide you through our onboarding process. 

Other services offered by the center

Everything we’ve talked about so far focused on individual community managers and their careers. However, we do also take on client work and grant collaborations. We regularly offer consultancy on community engagement strategy, member research, and event organization. We also host custom cohorts of our flagship CEF training and run short workshops on topics such as decision making, creating core values statements, and working with volunteers. If this sounds like something you’d like to know more about, let us know by emailing [email protected]

About us

CSCCE is an all-remote, nonprofit organization based in the USA. We were established by Founder and Center Director Lou Woodley with seed funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and have received additional support through the US National Science Foundation, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and our clients.

Our staff are communicators and facilitators, with extensive experience in academic publishing, international research collaborations, and research centers. We’re systems thinkers, passionate about building community, with an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our work and community of practice extends internationally, with members and collaborators from Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, and Latin America. If you are interested in learning more about anything mentioned in this post, please let us know by emailing [email protected]

Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash 

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