Krisztina Szabo, a doctoral student in industrial/organizational psychology, is studying how diversity affects team dynamics among space crews.

UCF Researcher Asks: How Does Diversity Affect Dynamics of Space Crews?

By: Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala on

With the prospect of space missions to Mars and beyond becoming a likelihood within the next decade, putting together the right team for those longs trips is critical.

That’s where Krisztina Szabo comes in. The doctoral student in industrial/organizational psychology wanted to find out how diversity affects team dynamics, and she said she could think of no better application than spaceflight crews.

“Since I moved to the U.S., I’ve become more and more interested in challenges related to cultural diversity,” says Szabo who emigrated from Hungary. “I think it’s very interesting how people from different cultures have different values and just overall a different way of thinking. Differences in cultural diversity can pose challenges in everyday life, but when we look at isolated teams, such as spaceflight crews, these challenges can magnify as the crew members spend many months together in a small, isolated place.”

Szabo will share some of her findings during the Student Scholar Symposium, which is part of UCF’s annual Student Research Week, March 29-April 2.

Szabo worked with her advisor, Shawn Burke, a research professor and director of the Team Research and Adaptability in Complex Environments (TRACE) lab at the Institute for Simulation and Training. Burke has ongoing research with NASA.

For this project, they looked at several factors: How do critical issues surrounding culture impact team processes and performance within the context of spaceflight? What formal practices, such as cross-cultural training, and informal practices, such as eating together, can crews utilize to mitigate the challenges of cultural diversity?

Szabo first moved to Alabama in 2014 as an undergraduate to play college sports. She was a Hungarian national champion in the long jump and triple jump and came to the United States to compete in track and field. She moved to UCF in 2018 to pursue a master’s degree in industrial/organizational psychology and has started the doctoral program.

“I used to watch the [space] launches since I was little,” she says. “I think almost every kid dreams of becoming an astronaut, so it’s really neat that I’m able to do research in this context.”

To find out more about Szabo’s work and that of other undergraduate and graduate students, check out the Student Scholar Symposium during this year’s virtual Student Research Week. Hundreds of students will present their work. Anyone with a valid UCF email is welcome to attend virtually.

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