Despite Decline in Interactions, Higher Quality Connections for Doris Duke Fellows in 2019-20
For 10 years, the Doris Duke Fellowships for the Promotion of Child Well-Being program enrolled a cohort of 15 doctoral students, or fellows, each year for two years. Fellows met other fellows and enhanced their skills in conducting applied research. In all, eight cohorts totaling 120 scholars participated in the program. The Fellowships network emerged, in part, through a series of annual meetings, informal meetings at relevant conferences, ongoing web-based conferences, peer mentoring, and small group research projects. For the past five years, Fellowships staff surveyed fellows, documenting their interactions with each other, both during and after formal enrollment in the program. This report presents findings from the most recent survey, capturing connections made between July 2019 and June 2020. One-third of this data observation period overlaps with the first four months of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
What We Did
Researchers conducted a web-based survey of all 120 fellows. Fellows were asked to report the number and quality of interactions they had with other fellows, both within and outside their cohort, between July 2019 and June 2020. Researchers used social network analysis to illustrate the extent to which fellows were in communication with other fellows within their cohort and with the network as a whole, as well as the quality of those interactions. They also examined if certain factors—such as cohort, academic discipline, and fellowships strategies (such as peer mentoring or Leadership Committee membership)—might have contributed to more frequent interactions.
What We Found
This report presents survey findings from the 110 fellows who completed the survey (92% of all fellows). It covers the Fellowships network as a whole and asks questions about the quality and frequency of interactions with their Fellowship colleagues during 2019–20. Overall, the fellows reported a total of 2,192 connections across the full Fellowships network, a 37% decline over the number of connections reported the previous year. For the first time since the survey began, the majority of connections were virtual (69%), a likely consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. Three-quarters of respondents acknowledged connecting with fewer fellows during the year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite a decline in overall interactions this year, the connections that did take place were of higher quality than in the prior year, with half of all reported connections rated as high quality.
As in the past, cohorts vary in both the number and quality of their connections. Some cohorts have stronger connections with their cohort peers, while others are more likely to report stronger connections with fellows outside their cohort. Of all the reported connections, 69% reflected connections with fellows from different cohorts. Overall, fellows who had established relationships and were on average more connected in prior years reported a larger number of connections this year.
What It Means
Although the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the number of connections among fellows, it did not break the network. This survey year showed us the network is sustainable in a virtual world, in large part due to the investment fellows made early on to develop professional and personal connections. And while the total number of connections declined, average connection quality improved. Relationships among fellows were growing stronger and fellows found ways to engage with and learn from each other even in conditions that limited personal interactions.
There continues to be variation over time for each cohort in both the number of their connections and the quality of their interactions. As cohort connectivity rises and falls over time, social network analysis shows that a key cluster of fellows in each cohort can play critically important roles in keeping the network interconnected.
Finally, prior connectivity was a strong predictor of connectivity this year at the individual level. In other words, connections breed connections—once you are active in the network, you tend to remain active. These findings will have significant implications as the program transitions to the Child Well-Being Research Network. The Network continues to draw in new individuals to join the Network, offering opportunities for engagement and leadership among the current members, and expanding the network’s diversity by race, ethnicity, levels of experience, and academic background.