For a chapter of his PhD thesis, Duncan is working with Dr. David Pedersen and Dr. Christine Kirchhoff to identify potential cultural conflicts that researchers might face in academia.


This web page is intended to give information about the project for those interested in participating and provide a place for updates to be posted as the project progresses.


Who is conducting this research?

Duncan Wheeler is a PhD candidate in Physical Oceanography at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). Duncan will be performing the bulk of the research as part of his PhD thesis. He will conduct and transcribe the interviews as well as perform the bulk of the analysis.

When interpreting the interviews, Duncan will work closely with David Pedersen, an associate professor of anthropology at UCSD with a joint degree in anthropology and history. He will use a grounded theory approach to create a hypothesis driven coding scheme that can them be used to quantitatively analyze the interviews to aid in a qualitative interpretation.

Sarah Giddings, an associate professor of physical oceanography at SIO, is Duncan’s primary advisor. Sarah will provide advice in interpreting results within the context of the coastal physical geosciences, which is the focus of the study.

Finally, Christine Kirchhoff, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the university of Connecticut, will serve in an advisory role as a member of Duncan’s thesis committee. Professor Kirchhoff brings valuable experience in interdisciplinary work combining physical and social science. Professor Kirchhoff will help Duncan identify analysis approaches for the data, but will not interact directly with interviews or transcripts until after they have been anonymized.


What’s the main purpose of the study?

The purpose of this study is to understand the different types of cultural conflicts that exist and how common those conflicts are. We have identified some conflicts from personal experience and past research, and now aim to determine how common those conflicts are as well as identify ones we aren’t yet aware of. We view this as a first step to start a conversation among researchers about what needs to change in academia and how to make those changes.

The concept of culture is well-developed within the field of Anthropology and has been adopted by neighboring disciplines, especially History. A secondary goal of this study is to use the examples and conclusions we draw from these interviews to explain the promise of cultural analysis as a tool to the physical geosciences community.

For those interested, We define cultural conflicts as instances where practical systems of meaning sharply diverge.  Within each culture, there are durable patterns in the ways that something can point to, resemble, or stand for something else, so as to convey a quality of meaning.  In this sense, any human feeling, action, or habit may have completely different meanings within different scientific cultures. One example comes from considering the different interpretations of the word ‘significant’ when describing research. ‘Significant’ is a descriptive word whose interpretation changes depending on the context in which it is used. ‘Significance’ might refer to how a research project changes how scientists think about the theory in their field, how it describes observations of a new environment, how it produces a tool that will help decision makers analyze a problem, or simply refer to a statistical quantification. If a researcher is funded by a government agency that uses the decision making tool interpretation of significant, but is promoted based on papers they publish that meet the theory or new observation interpretation of significant, this might be interpretable as a cultural conflict.


Who is being recruited?

 We aim to interview coastal physical geoscience researchers in academia who are past the post-doc position. We chose this group for a couple reasons. First, coastal physical geoscientists work in a field that we are relatively familiar with without being overly restrictive. Second, we expect there to be large generational differences in culture. By limiting our participants to those who are past the post-doc position, we limit the scope of the project to be more manageable and create an opportunity to identify more subtle cultural conflicts.

For now, we are also limiting participants to those working in North America. If we have time, we will open this up later.


What will be expected with participation?

Participants in this project will participate in a 1 hour confidential recorded interview over zoom with possible follow-up questions by email afterwards. We will ask interviewees about expectations: what you expect from yourself and what you feel is expected of you.

You will be provided with a consent form and summary of the interview questions before the interview to review, and we will ask for verbal consent at the beginning of the interview.

All interviews will be anonymized and any publications resulting from this work will have no connection to any of the participants. Only student Duncan Wheeler, Dr. David Pedersen, and Dr. Sarah Giddings will have access to the interviews before they are anonymized. This project is under UCSD IRB #802601.


How long will participation last?

For most participants, the total time commitment will be 1 hour. For those whom we will ask follow-up questions, we do not expect to take up more than 2 hours of your time total. We expect the total timeline of the project to be about 1 year, past which we will likely not need to contact you.


Will activities be compensated?

Unfortunately, we do not have the resources to compensate our participants.


How can participants enroll in the study?

Please schedule and interview below or at this link and Duncan will reach out to you to provide more detailed information. Alternatively, please feel free to email Duncan directly at to get more information before scheduling an interview.


How can I learn about the outcomes from this study?

We will have an opt in email list for us to update you on when we meet major progress points in the project (eg. finished interviewing, finished coding, etc.)

We also plan to publish the results and will reach out for permission to include anonymized quotes in the manuscript.