Bridging the Gaps at UCLJames Paskins
Sarah Bell, Ben Croxford, Muki Haklay and Simon Julier
University College LondonFinal Event 16th February 2011
Aims of the Bridging the Gaps ProgrammeIntroduced by the EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council)Recognition that some problems benefit from a being approached by different disciplinesFunding allows a university to explore ways of making interdisciplinary research work
The need for interdisciplinary workingThe world has its problems, but universities have departmentsDepartments have their advantagesConcentration of expertiseShared worldviewReal-world problems often require input from more than one disciplineTension between efficiency and freedom
Context of the programmeUCL is a large multi-faculty department, with many departments in central London.Lots of equipment, technicians and research groups
About Bridging the Gaps at UCLResearch has to involve sustainable urban spaces Collaborators must come from at least two different departments at UCLAt least cross-departmental if not cross-disciplinaryAny UCL department can be involvedFocus on early career researchers (activities cannot be led by a Professor)
Range of Bridging the Gaps activitiesOpen Programme small initial funding for ideasSeminar FundingVisiting Scholar AwardStaff ExchangeMSc Competition co supervision of MScSandpit Funding nanotech and sensorsEscalator Funding for previous participantsGrant Writing SupportChampions Events Network of representatives
Funding from Bridging the GapsBridging the gaps has awarded over 225,000 in funding Applications were submitted from 26 departments or centres in 6 facultiesFunding was given to 51 collaborations between departments Bridging the Gaps has given 63 academics the chance to test their ideas and new research partnerships
A wide range of activities have been fundedNatural ventilation for greener and healthier buildings Questioning the sustainability of post-industrial urban landscapesChildren, Well-being and Disability: Re-visiting IndiaCommunity Mapping in Hackney: Community use and appropriation of Hackney Marsh, LondonClimate and Uncertainty SymposiumDuracoat: Using Nanoscience to protect woodWhat's my energy footprint?
Requirement for expertise or equipmentEnergy efficiency is a function of many factors not studied in computer science departmentsit allowed us to bring in ... staff from other departments [with] skills that we would have been unable to provide ourselves access to laboratory to use specialist equipmentthe equipment in the two groups is shared and the researcher benefits from it Collaboration across disciplines and departments is most of the time very fruitful as it provides you with an opportunity to complement skills and knowledge.
Further benefits from collaborationDeveloping skillsI have gained ... understanding outside my backgroundI also learned how to efficientlyprepare for a large funding frommy partner I liked the straightforward way physical scientists approach things Reaching a wider audienceIt is going to take some of my research into different areas and to a bigger audience, hopefully it will help make the research successful in that we can start to tackle some of the huge challenges we are trying to address.
About the future: Continuing collaboration[We] now share a PhD studentwe will push this [collaboration] in the grant proposals I think EPSRC funding is the next logical step. We plan to apply for a larger fund such as FP-7 or EPSRC the ideas generated during this project has helped me to think about a further proposal which I am currently outlining and will be submitted to the BBSRC
Is cross-disciplinary research worth it?Without a doubtYes, definitelyPossibly, depending on the time spent transferring knowledge and the benefits the cross-disciplinary collaboration if the problem is of a truly cross-disciplinary nature ... then the benefits will definitely outweigh the complexities.very subjective [it is] about one's professional objectives and the things that make one's job worth doing.
ConclusionsParticipants open to cross-disciplinary workingCross-disciplinary research is seen as the future, or the present, of researchLack of funding seen as a barrier to novel collaborationTime pressure and complexity also act as barriersFrustration at discipline based assessmentGiven the right problem, collaboration is seen as worth the difficulties involved
ConclusionsCross-disciplinary working can fill a skills gap and provide access to useful equipmentIt can also develop the participants skills and expose them to a wider audienceSmall amounts of funding can be enough to initiate a collaboration and begin work on an ideaIn some cases leading to larger grant applicationsInformation about resources and facilities and potential partners is also valuable
For more information and further details about the funded work please visit www.ucl.ac.uk/btg