Interview with 2012 SPR Cup Winners
In recognition of the importance of the collaborative
process to the field, the Society for Prevention
Research (SPR) annually sponsors a friendly competition
amongst teams of researchers for the honor of bringing
home the Sloboda and Bukoski SPR Cup. The Cup is
named for two of the founders and long-time active
members of SPR, Dr. Zili Sloboda and Dr. William
Bukoski. The Cup competition is an opportunity for
an unique experience: several independent teams
of scientists, each working with the same data set,
problem solve together for a brief period of time
and then jointly present their ideas to each other
and a larger group of experienced prevention scientists.
the 20th SPR Annual Meeting, five teams competed
for the 7th Annual SPR Sloboda and Bukoski Cup.
The teams all worked with the same data set, the
Adolescent Substance Abuse Prevention Study (PI:
Dr. Zili Sloboda), a randomized field trial designed
to test the effectiveness of a new school-based
substance abuse prevention program called Take Charge
of Your Life (TCYL). This study was sponsored by
the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Cup teams received the data set two months prior
to the annual meeting. During the months preceding
the meeting, each team conducted a literature review,
generated hypotheses, conducted analyses, and prepared
a presentation for a 10-minute symposium talk on
their results. The five teams presented their results
during an invited symposium at the SPR annual meeting.
A panel of senior prevention scientist judges and
the audience at the symposium rated the quality
of the research work and of the presentation.
Community interviewed Alexis Harris (captain) of
the 2012 SPR Cup winning team,
The Cohort Effect, The Pennsylvania State University.
Harris’s team mates are Charles Beekman, Jacqueline
(Jacqui) Cox, Kathleen Zadzora and Shu (Violet)
SPR Community: What motivated you to compete
in the SPR Cup?
Harris: We’ve all witnessed and admired students
in our research centers (the Prevention Research
Center and the Methodology Center) at Penn State
University (PSU) that have competed in the past,
and we even felt a little pressure to follow in
their footsteps. Mostly, though, competing in the
Cup represented a challenge to pull together the
different elements of our training and to stretch
ourselves with data and research questions that
were different than what we work with every day
in our respective labs. We all know that collaboration
is an important part of research, but as students
we typically collaborate with our advisors and those
within our own labs. This competition was an opportunity
for a different kind of collaboration with our peers
who have different backgrounds, research interests,
Community: How did the team come together?
Harris: All of the members of our team have common
interests in prevention, methodology, and the study
of development, and we also each have a bit of a
competitive side that really drew us to the challenge
of the Cup. Alexis, Jacqui, and Kathleen are part
of a tight-knit cohort in the Human Development
and Family Studies (HDFS) doctoral program at PSU
and work in the Prevention Research Center (PRC).
Charlie is in the developmental psychology doctoral
program but has been dubbed an honorary cohort member
because he completed his methods sequence with our
HDFS cohort. Three of us (Charles, Kathleen and
Alexis) are on the same IES predoctoral training
fellowship. We met Shu (Violet), a post-doctoral
research associate at the Methodology Center, when
four of us took a course on causal inference methods
with Donna Coffman, who became our mentor for the
Community: What inspired you to choose your topic?
Harris: Because most of us consider ourselves prevention-oriented
developmental scientists, we saw great potential
for this data set to tell a developmental story
that would inform prevention efforts. The previous
reports on the ASAP Study had examined intervention
effects in detail, but we thought that the study
also successfully compiled a very rich longitudinal
dataset capturing the transition into high school
and teens' experience of substance use throughout
middle and high school. We knew that taking an innovative
approach (such as those being studied at Penn State’s
Methodology Center) to documenting the changes in
adolescents’ substance use over time would
aid the field in the nuances of design and targeting
of prevention and intervention efforts.
Community: What was the biggest challenge in preparing
Harris: The biggest challenge in preparing a ten-minute
presentation was finding a way to communicate the
whole story of our analyses without hitting the
audience with an overwhelming amount of information.
Visually representing Latent Transition Analysis
was a huge challenge, and all five of us worked
long hours together to experiment with different
graphics and animations to find the best way to
depict the processes studied in LTA.
Community: In what ways did this experience change
how you thought about prevention science and a career
as a prevention scientist?
Harris: Competing in the SPR Cup gave us a new understanding
of interdisciplinary collaborative work and its
value for advancing the science of prevention. Our
experience in the competition also reinforced for
us the importance of combining the study of developmental
processes with intervention studies to enable a
project to contribute to a deeper understanding
of the phenomena of interest in addition to the
efficacy of a particular prevention effort.
Community: Do you have any recommendations for future
SPR Cup teams?
Harris: Make sure you have the time available to
thoroughly tackle the project. When we were planning
our work schedules for the spring, we all set aside
most of the month of May to devote the majority
of our time to this and knew that we would be working
long hours to be able to balance the Cup with the
demands of our other projects. Push yourself to
really get to know the dataset inside and out before
proceeding with your analyses. Don’t underestimate
the data management demands, and take the time to
be as thorough as possible.
to have as many team members as possible who have
a strong foundation in both prevention and methodology
rather than one or the other. Having a team with
a diversity of experience will increase your chances
that someone will be familiar with the content area
of the dataset, but a common foundation or interest
among team members helps as well. We found it particularly
advantageous that everyone on our team has a strong
base of methodological training from which to draw.
Since you receive a large, novel dataset and have
a very tight timeline to pull together your research
question and analyses, it helps to have as many
people as possible comfortable in data management
tasks, dealing with missing values in the data,
trying out preliminary analyses, etc.
would also recommend getting feedback and critiques
from people outside the team in order to strengthen
your project and find the best way to present it
to a diverse audience.
left to right: Shu (Violet) Xu, Kathleen Zadzora,
Alexis Harris, Jacqueline Cox, Charles Beekman