Diversity of culture, thought and expertise at the Well Living Lab


In the broadest sense, diversity means individual uniqueness. It encompasses understanding, accepting and respecting the ways in which individuals differ from person to person. Geographic origin, life experience, education, religion, age, gender, sexuality and more contribute unique ways of being and ways of thinking.

Among the Well Living Lab staff are people from the U.S., Argentina, China, Columbia and Hong Kong; farms and cities; some raised by parents of Chinese Singaporean, Sri Lankan, Scandinavian, German, Dutch and English heritages; and one with “a pinky full of Irish.” And that’s just a snippet of the lab’s diversity.
What does diversity bring to the Well Living Lab? In two words: strength and teamwork. These quotes provide evidence:

  • “Our biggest achievements as a team have come from working with people from different cultures.”
  • “The country where I was born has a lot of poverty, and appreciating the incredible things that individuals can do with less drives me to constantly think about efficiency.”
  • “My heritage emphasizes the positive: see the best in people. Even when there is friction, you can adapt the situation to make things go well. Give less importance to the negative.”
  • “Respect, learn, support are part of what my culture teaches. Those are important to a multidisciplinary team like we have. No one can do everything. No one can know everything. By practicing these things, the team develops a harmonious environment.”
  • “I have learned that how we phrase what we say is incredibly important to be understood and for cultural sensitivity. I’ve applied that to the surveys I help create that are used in our studies.”
  • “My past experience has helped me develop communication skills to explain complex topics. This has been critically important in the lab where we have a unique set of disciplines, from health sciences, biomedical engineering, behavioral science and technology.”
  • “I’ve lived in both eastern and western cultures. In eastern cultures with hierarchy, people often don’t question superiors because it is considered disrespectful and people may not talk to anyone above them in rank. To westerners, that can look as though the person is shy or quiet or not engaged. I can help both sides understand each other better, and in the case of the lab, where we want to hear everyone’s perspectives, I have helped alleviate concerns about speaking up.”
  • Lab staff is quick to give examples of how they have helped move something forward in a different way than it would have if they had not offered input.

“I had just joined the Well Living Lab and we were preparing for a sleep study. We were meeting to go over the objective and subjective data we would be gathering for a sleep study. As I listened, I wondered how we would know if people were fully or partially covered by the bedsheets because that would affect the data we obtained. I suggested we use a thermal camera to be able to get this information. We weren’t studying the use of sheets, but we did need to know the answer to that question to make sure the data we obtained were pertinent. That’s how listening to each other and thinking different things makes a difference.”

“We were exploring ecological momentary assessment platforms for a study and I found it burdensome to use an app to do this. It dawned on me that I had once used a text message for an assessment. The texting system was familiar and did not require a new habit to be adopted. Plus, it offered pleasure bundling: participants could do the assessment and use the same tool to see other messages. I offered this as potentially a better tool to use.”

“We use sensors to monitor behavioral and human outcomes and obtain objective data and I noticed something missing: knowing how people are feeling at any given moment. We needed to capture the emotion, too.”

“I was revising a survey that had the demographic questions at the beginning. In my past work, I found that people tend to pay more attention to the questions that come first, so we changed the sequence and got better responses.”

Diversity for the lab is all about coming together and harvesting strengths. Rongpeng Zhang, Ph.D., sums it up well. “Think about growing a plant, you need, sun, water, temperature – a balance of many different factors. We’re working in a very new area combining building science and health science. That’s all about balance, too, and we need diversity to get there.”