Joining virtual organizations: A study of newcomers to established collaborations

This project examined the onboarding and socialization processes newcomers face when joining existing virtual research organizations. Newcomers must learn new techniques, navigate a new social network and work within unfamiliar organizational structures. The research used a comparative case study approach to study how onboarding happens in collaboratories without interrupting the regular work of the scientists involved. 

Start date: 9/15/2008
End date: 8/31/2011

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The growing pressure for “bigger science” combined with the technological capacity to communicate over distance has increased interest in the promise of cyberinfrastructure-enabled virtual science research teams. Joining a virtual research organization can prove even more difficult for newcomers. Organizational socialization focuses on newcomers’ adjustments to new surroundings. Traditional organizations have begun to focus on the processes of “onboarding” to facilitate newcomers’ learning and adjustment; scientific research organizations face similar problems of socialization and on-boarding.

This project built on prior work that studied large-scale scientific collaborations enabled by cyberinfrastructure and explored the socialization process in civic and online communities in order to understand what factors lead to successful onboarding. 

By examining organizational work from the perspective of transitions, research findings suggested that the kind of social interactions that teams have—especially those that are informal and observable—are crucial to successful virtual teaming and remote onboarding. The results of this project have substantial broader impacts that will help researchers and future studies to understand what is necessary to facilitate effective transitions from one laboratory to another. Understanding and improving this process has the potential to benefit underrepresented minorities (including women) who have traditionally faced even greater difficulties in navigating those transitions.

Erik Johnston from Arizona State University and Libby Hemphill from the Illinois Institute of Technology also collaborated on this project.


Collaborative Research: VOSS: Joining a Virtual Organization: A Multi-Method Study of Newcomers to Established Collaborations, National Science Foundation: $193,917


The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"