2011 EARA/SRA Summer School Report

Directed by Stephen Russell (SRA President-Elect), the 2011 EARA-SRA Summer School was held in Tucson, Arizona from May 16th to the 21st.  Supported by funding from the Jacobs Foundation, the EARA-SRA Summer Schools provide five days of intensive research training focused on adolescence. This years school was attended by 10 Senior Scholars—established researchers from around the globe, and 24 Junior Scholars—doctoral students coming mainly from Europe and the Americas. The training includes sessions conducted by Senior Scholars, based on their area of research.

In these sessions, Seniors present on their areas of expertise. The Junior Scholars come prepared, having read 2-3 articles for every presentation and are assigned a task which they then work on in groups. Their responses are then presented to the whole School, where more discussion follows. This year, the topics included identity (SRA President, Niobe Way, New York University), moral developmental (Gustavo Carlo, University of Nebraska-Lincoln), altruism (Daan Brugman, Utrecht University), romanatic relationships (Jennifer Connolly, York University), pubertal process (Lorah Dorn, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital), and personality (Marcel van Aken, Utrecht University).

In addition to the Senior Sessions, the Junior Scholars also benefit from a variety of workshops. This year the workshops were on communicating across disciplines and cultures (Sheila Marshall, University of British Columbia), using longitudinal data (Noel Card, University of Arizona), writing grants (Stephen Russell, University of Arizona), and working with secondary data sets (Marcela Raffaelli, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign).

The Junior Scholars also get an opportunity to present their doctoral work, with two Senior Scholars selected to provide individualized feedback. Many Junior Scholars find this—the opportunity to hear what the experts in the field think of their work—one of the most valuable aspects of the Summer School. Although this may sound intimidating, the goal of the Junior sessions is to provide expert advice in a supportive and energizing context.

Chosen from among some of the best doctoral students in the world, this year’s Junior Scholars included: Kevin Barnes-Ceeney, Karen Bluth, Kristen Gilbert, Sara Johnson, Jessica McKenzie, Christopher Salas-Wright, Cindy Sangalang, Jama Shelton, Julia Tang, Elizabeth Tilley, Kristina Webber, and Chris Lee from American universities; Jolien van der Graff, Danielle van der Giessen, Beiwen Chen, Jan Serek, Kirsten Lochbuhler, Mette Ranta, Sabrina Ruggieri, Guilia Zucchetti, Eveline Teppers, Marion Reindl, Marko Luftenegger, and Umit Morsunbul from European universities.

Both Junior and Senior scholars reported being very satisfied with the experience, many hoping to participate sometime in the furture. The following are some reflections from two of the American Scholars:

Having been back from the summer institute for almost a month, what has remained with me most of all is the overall sentiment of respect which permeated all interactions and activities. Whether through engaging in lively debates about methodology or in-depth discussions about our research agendas, the faculty always seemed sincerely interested in helping us, in offering their expertise and guidance. It was genuine. Although there was no mistaking the division between “Senior Scholars” and “Junior Scholars”, the tone was informal, and no one – most notably the Senior Scholars themselves – seemed to give the division much importance. The general sense was that we were a team working together to problem-solve the dilemmas of designing effective methodologies to answer our research questions, or to respond effectively in an afternoon activity posed to us following a lecture.

That’s not to say that our work involved only intellectual challenges, although certainly that was a large part of what went on during the week. There was the creative aspect – the opportunity to indulge in new ways to present our solutions to the questions posed in the afternoon activities; our presentations often brought forth a lot of laughter (i.e. think: a grown man with a British accent using a high-pitched voice in enacting a paper puppet of a little girl wearing a skirt made of post-it notes).  And then there were the many moments of camaraderie – recognizing similarities of graduate school experiences “cross-nationally” over dinner conversations, interrupting an in-depth conversation about longitudinal data analysis to admire the striking life-likeness of a Saguaro cactus, or forging plans for research projects with others from across the globe with whom you share some aspect of your research.   It was tremendously inspiring.

I could not end my reflection on this experience without noting the impact on me of the significant generosity of those involved in the planning process in Tucson. Whether it involved driving us in groups of 3 or 4 on tours of the university, entertaining us at a home, or always making everything appear seamless and well-planned, the end result on my part was a feeling of being welcomed and valued.  For graduate students who often spend many hours a day on the computer or negotiating with committees and paperwork, this made an enormous impact, and a sentiment and experience that I will most likely draw on in many future challenging moments.
– Karen Bluth

Like Karen, I was both challenged by and engaged in our summer school activities.  The assignments fostered collaboration and camaraderie that will likely (and hopefully) continue throughout our careers.  A key aspect of the summer school that had a profound impact on my own work was the diversity of the Junior Scholars.  Though our unifying interest was adolescent research, the specific nature of our work – populations to be studied, methodologies, location in our programs – varied greatly.  The diverse interests represented by the Junior Scholars provided a rich experience that allowed me to see beyond the confines of my own discipline and consider additional viewpoints.  The exchange of cross-disciplinary ideas strengthened my work and will broaden its reach and applicability.  Several of us have already made plans to collaborate in the near future!
– Jama Shelton

Special thanks to Erica Ruegg, the on-site coordinator and to Sheila Marshall, who served as the Committee advisor for the Summer School.