Grad students tackle interdisciplinary collaborations

Interdisciplinary Collaborative Network

By Jacob Lucero, PhD student in Ray Callaway’s lab (Organismal Biology & Ecology), UM

In Fall 2012, a group of newly arrived graduate students at the University of Montana sat around a table discussing their various research interests. The conversation turned to the projects of other graduate students and faculty from departments around campus. It quickly became apparent that there was a surprising degree of overlap among our interests, and that we as a campus community of researchers could greatly benefit by uniting our talents, perspectives, and expertise. We realized that we could tackle otherwise inaccessible problems by taking an interdisciplinary approach to collaboration.

Of course, our experience was not original. Interdisciplinary collaboration has long been the lifeblood of high-impact research with important and far-reaching implications. The field of biomedical engineering, for example, is the result of productive collaborations among medical doctors, mechanical engineers, computer programmers and physiologists. These collaborations have produced staples of modern medicine like the heart/lung machine, pacemakers, and increasingly life-like prosthetics of all kinds. But how might graduate students hope to form such productive interdisciplinary collaborations during their graduate careers?  

We figured the first step was to connect as many researchers from as many different fields as possible. With our combined passions and expertise, surely grad students at the University of Montana and beyond had the collective talent to pursue stellar interdisciplinary research. We talked with friends and colleagues about the idea of forming a professional network that connected researchers across disciplines. The response was phenomenally positive. Nearly everyone we spoke with agreed that we could all benefit by being more familiar with one another’s research interests, talents, expertise, and resources. Led by the vision and enthusiasm of UM grad student Mandy Slate, we drew inspiration from social media and professional organizations and formalized the idea of an Interdisciplinary Collaborative Network (ICN) -- a forum that helps researchers from all backgrounds make connections necessary to tackle problems that span disciplines.

Our vision soon became a reality. With funding from the Montana Institute on Ecosystems, the ICN secured resources to produce a searchable database that lists experts in a number of fields by their skills and research interests. In addition, the ICN hosts a blog, social events and incorporates an active outreach component dedicated to community service. New this semester, is an ICN-initiated seminar series, designed to help graduate students better understand the logistics, benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary research. The series will target professional development skills like writing, speaking and interviewing. We are also excited to be expanding to include Montana State and Montana Tech graduate students.

We are proud of the ICN -- it is a grassroots organization started by students interested in broadening the scope and impact of their research. Please join us by creating a profile!  As more partners join, our impact is enriched. Your expertise may be exactly what is needed to help tackle an otherwise inaccessible problem. Visit us at http:\\



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