Organizers hope to spark interdisciplinary research across campus
By David Miller
Nearly a dozen University of Alabama faculty members gather at a large round table in the third-floor rotunda of Carmichael Hall. Sunlight beams through the roof and reflects off shards of glass sprinkled in the Nall Hollis art works lining the walls.
It’s a peaceful setting for discussing research interests.
Collaborative meetings are typically informal and sometimes happen organically, but the purpose of this luncheon and the selection of its participants are intentional: to lay groundwork for interdisciplinary research.
The School of Social Work held its first “speed research networking luncheon” recently to spark collaborative research between its faculty and researchers across campus. Faculty from the College of Education met with Social Work researchers to discuss overlapping research areas of drug addiction, literacy, mental health and language education, among others.
The School hopes the networking yields pilot studies with faculty across campus and jump-starts larger research projects and pursuit of funding, both internally and externally, said Dr. Hee Yun Lee, associate dean for research for the School of Social Work.
“If these meetings go well, we’d like to explore pilot funding for small surveys or focus groups, to encourage them to work and write together,” Lee said. “I hope this event has opened the door for this collaboration.”
Collaborative studies between the two are already happening. For instance, Dr. Daphne Cain, associate dean for administrative services for the School of Social Work, is providing methodology expertise to College of Education researcher Dr. Karl Hamner’s study of environmental risk factors of veterans who die by suicide. Both researchers attended the luncheon.
Lee has been involved in interdisciplinary research, particularly over the last 10 years as she’s worked on a Centers for Disease Control project to develop a mobile app to improve vaccinations for human papillomavirus infection.
“I’m also working with faculty in Engineering to prepare a few NSF (National Science Foundation) grant applications, and they need to make sure social scientists are involved in developing the technology for human-centered innovation,” she said. “So I work with engineers a lot.”
Lee said the School hopes to have similar luncheons with the College of Engineering, College of Community Health Sciences, Capstone College of Nursing and the College of Arts and Sciences. The luncheons also help align busy schedules of teaching, research and service.
Dr. Peter Hlebowitsh, dean of the College of Education, said trending topics at the luncheon included drug addiction and family depravations, and a broad interest in literacy, as it is a gateway skill for youth.
Hlebowitsh said more than 50 College of Education faculty are attached to a grant through another school or college on campus; College of Education faculty are working on STEM research initiatives and specialized areas of psychology, such as autism spectrum disorder, among others.
Hlebowitsh said the networking luncheon is important in increasing these collaborations in the competitive landscape of research funding, which typically center around problems that transcend disciplinary lines.
“It also calls for a range of methodological approaches, and that combination of skill sets can help us tackle particular problems in a comprehensive manner,” he said. “That’s what makes interdisciplinary research align with grant-supported work.
“We had good synchronicity at the meeting, and some of the faculty exchanged cards, so it was an encouraging first step.”