Meet, Write, Collaborate: Networking in Working Groups

Networking accomplished: First, join the group. Second, find your person. Third, create a project.

Puberty is a complex and multifaceted process, and yet pubertal research typically resides in silos across fields such as medicine, genetics, psychology, anthropology, neuroscience, public health, or epidemiology. In each of these fields, novel measurement and theoretical approaches lead to incremental increases in our knowledge of puberty, but the most exciting discoveries usually happen when disciplines intersect. We had the opportunity to see this intersection of ideas first-hand at The New Biobehavioral Developmental Science of Puberty post-conference at SRA 2016 organized by Drs. Lorah Dorn, Liz Susman, and Anne Petersen.

The meeting was designed to bring together senior scholars with diverse expertise and backgrounds related to puberty with more junior scholars in the field, in order to have the next generation advance the science of puberty. Topics discussed included: (1) the latest advances that have come about that help us understand puberty, (2) what is still unknown about puberty that’s critical to understanding healthy adolescent development, (3) how to advance interdisciplinary puberty research, and (4) ways to incorporate findings of puberty with respect to prevention/intervention efforts and policy directives. Topic areas were introduced by group leaders, the discussion was generated within teams, and integrated summaries were presented by a panel of emerging scholars. The main ideas generated at this event lead to a Special Section entitled, “Perspectives on the Developmental Science of Puberty,” (co-editors: Dorn L.D., Crockett E., Susman, E.J., Petersen A.C.) published in the Journal of Research on Adolescence this month.

For many of us, participating in this meeting and special issue, also motivated new and exciting collaborations. The two of us: Rona, who received a Ph.D. in Lifespan Developmental Psychology and postdoctoral training in Social Relations and Health and Lindsay, who received a Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy and postdoctoral training in Population Health, met for the first time at this event. After sitting in a room together all day (and nodding at the same comments), it was clear that we were both interested in better understanding the broad range of experiences associated with puberty across contexts and subgroups, which has been neglected in the puberty literature. So, we joined forces on a pilot study (The Preteen Study) in New York City where we seek to capture biological, cultural, and psychosocial aspects of pubertal development in a sample of low-income Black boys and girls. We just finished data collection and we are excited to explore these new data, which include not only traditional markers of puberty (e.g., the Pubertal Development Scale) and hormone levels, but also ask youth how they feel about the changes happening in their brains and bodies.

At the same time, we had the opportunity to co-write an article with Drs. Deardorff and Shirtcliff (more senior scholars attending the meeting) for the special issue, highlighting the need to study puberty in understudied populations (youth of color, boys, sexual minority youth, and gender minority youth), which had clear implications for our current and future work. In the article, we summarized individual differences in puberty across these populations, discussed conceptual issues and methodological barriers that have limited research within these groups, and offered approaches to advance scientific inquiry.

But it takes more than collaborating on a study and writing an article to broaden the lens of our understanding of puberty. We needed to ask ourselves: How are we connected to pubescent youth who are most marginalized in society? How are our advantages as researchers related to others’ disadvantages, and vice versa? Developing a strong collective identity—as researchers who are responsible for capturing the lived experiences of pubescent youth—is one way to build a strong collaboration, and ultimately, steer the field in a direction that describes the full range of the pubertal experiences across diverse groups of youth and contexts. There is still substantial work remaining, but we are excited about the opportunity to inspire and push eachother to think in new ways. So, meet, write and collaborate!

Rona Carter (right) is an assistant professor of Psychology at the University of Michigan. Her research focuses on the effects of pubertal timing as well as ethnic-racial and gender discrimination. Follow her: @rcart003

Lindsay Till Hoyt (left) is an assistant professor of Applied Developmental Psychology at Fordham University. Her research focuses on the ways biological processes, psychological experiences, and social contexts interact during youth to influence lifelong health trajectories. Follow her: @3dyouthresearch

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