SPR Community

Newsletter of the Society for Prevention Research
Spring 2013 , Volume 3, Issue 1

An 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.

At 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.

SPR 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.

SPR 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) Xu.

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, and skills.

SPR 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 Cup.

SPR 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.

SPR Community: What was the biggest challenge in preparing your presentation?
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.

SPR 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.

SPR 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.

Try 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.

We 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.

Caption: left to right: Shu (Violet) Xu, Kathleen Zadzora, Alexis Harris, Jacqueline Cox, Charles Beekman

SPR Community
Society for Prevention Research National Office
11240 Waples Mill Road, Suite 200, Fairfax, VA 22030 USA
Phone: (703) 934-4850 • Fax: (703) 359-7562 • E-mail: info@preventionresearch.org • www.preventionresearch.org

Editor: Hanno Petras, PhD
Executive Director: Jennifer Lewis, CAE
Membership Director: DeeJay Garringo

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