In partnership with UVA’s Office of the Vice President for Research and the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost, the four multidisciplinary institutes are kicking off a Building Bridges Lecture Series for the University community.
Madhav Maranthe, PhD
Advancing the Practice of Transdisciplinary Research: Disasters, Bio-Threats, and Social Behavior
Alison Criss, director of the Global Infectious Diseases Institute and a professor of microbiology, immunology and cancer biology, fielded some questions about the seminar series for readers of UVA Today.
“Q. How did the idea to start a Building Bridges Lecture Series come about, and what do you expect to accomplish by holding periodic seminars?
A. The four pan-University institutes share the mission of catalyzing cutting-edge interdisciplinary research at UVA. At one of our regular meetings, the institute directors (Phil Bourne, Karen McGlathery, Jaideep Kapur and I) raised the idea of a lecture series, featuring amazing research that could only have happened when multiple fields converge.
This fits well with President Ryan’s goal of “building bridges” – here, bridges between disciplines. Our goal is for this series to showcase to the UVA community what can happen when researchers from different fields make the commitment to tackle large, multi-perspective societal problems.
Q. Why is research more cross- and multi-disciplinary than ever?
A. The big, complex problems that we as a society are experiencing in the 21st century – like water security, global pandemics, understanding global investment flows and aging-related cognitive impairment – require large scale, multi-investigator teams to address. By enabling researchers to work together using their complementary expertise, the team synergizes to achieve something that no one person can do.
Q. Do you find that faculty and students are open to talking with people outside of their own areas of focus?
A. Absolutely, and the institutes enable this by bringing together faculty and students on topics of shared interest, even if their areas of expertise and educational background are very different. We work hard to build on those positive encounters to seed new research teams and give them the tools to thrive. Students are especially excited to get a broader perspective on their research topic and are key members of these teams.
Q. How else are the four institutes working together?
A. We quickly realized that there is obvious overlap between the research thrusts of each of the four institutes. We have capitalized on that by co-hosting working groups on areas of intersection between our institutes and jointly supporting student training activities.
The associate directors of the institutes work closely together and with the Office of the Vice President for Research to develop best practices for interdisciplinary research at UVA. We plan to host workshops and other interactive events in conjunction with future Building Bridges Lectures as a way to continue the conversation from the seminar.
Lastly, we meet regularly to discuss the opportunities and challenges of interdisciplinary research, since it involves changing culture, which is the hardest of all we wish to accomplish.
Q. What other subjects do you expect to cover in future seminars?
A. We will focus on compelling topics that engage a broad swath of the UVA community, like the impact of a changing climate on health, mapping the developing brain, and data ethics in an increasingly online world. We welcome suggestions from the University community.”