Workshop: Transacademics: Making Use of Interdisciplinary Research Methods Outside of the Academy

Third Meeting of the Bay Area Intercampus Workshop on Interdisciplinarity

This workshop will consider how interdisciplinary research methods and knowledges can be used outside of specialized academic venues, with a particular focus on the importance of collaboration. Scholars who are drawn to interdisciplinary inquiry are often in search of knowledge that has more purchase on ‘real world’ problems. We will discuss how to accomplish this from positions that are both inside and outside of the traditional university setting, sharing insights from our own work, our institutions, and from experts who are now applying interdisciplinary training outside of the university.

Attendees are encouraged to prepare a 5 minute Lightning Talk that very briefly describes their research project and shares an insight, challenge or question about interdisciplinary collaboration that has arisen from their experience. Lightning talks are allowed a maximum of 3 slides. Attendees who do not want to give a lightning presentation are also welcome for the entire day.



10:30-11:00 Gather

11:00-11:15 Opening Remarks and brief introduction to the Science & Justice Research Center (Reardon and Metcalf)

11:15-12:45 Guest Speakers:

Natalie Purcell (Director of Collaborative Patient Care, Veterans Administration in San Francisco)

Karen Andrade (Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and The Science Shop, UC Berkeley)

12:45-1:15 Lunch

1:15-2:00 Optional walk and chat (dress for walking on moderate hills)

2:00-3:45 Lightning Talks

4:15-4:30 Break

4:30-5:00 Open Discussion

The UCSC Science & Justice Research Center | UCSC, College 8, Room 301 | Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Transacademics: Making Use of Interdisciplinary Research Methods Outside of the Academy"
Third Meeting of the Bay Area Intercampus Workshop on Interdisciplinarity
SJWG Rapporteur Report
2 November 2013
Rapporteur: Lizzy Hare, Anthropology
The goal for this workshop was to consider how interdisciplinary research methods and collaborations can be used outside of academic venues. Natalie Purcell, Director of Collaborative Patient Care at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco, CA and Karen Andrade, founder of the Berkeley Science Shop and Ph.D. candidate in UC Berkeley’s Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management, spoke about their experiences applying interdisciplinary training to their work outside of the university. Workshop attendees also gave 5-minute Lightning Talks to briefly describe their research and share an insight, question, or challenge from their own experience in interdisciplinary collaboration.

The workshop began with introductions and participants offered questions that they hoped would be addressed over the course of the day. Workshop attendees were concerned with making transacademic work that is research done outside of traditional academic settings, legible as valid contributions to research and in career development, with issues of translation across audiences, disciplines and different degrees of specialization and expertise. There was also significant interest in being involved in research that can address real world problems and help to build a more equitable and just world.

In her introduction, Jenny Reardon talked about the importance of institutional recognition and support. Quality work ought to be recognized both financially and through certification on transcripts, and this is something that requires the involvement of the university. Funding for the Center for Science and Justice, for example, initially came from the National Science Foundation, but the NSF supports research, not institutions. In order to receive additional funds from the NSF that money will need to go towards research that supports the institution.

Natalie Purcell talked about her experience at the Veterans Administration in San Francisco. She began working at the VA through a fellowship program and was surprised to find that she would not be working on sociological research, but instead was tasked with administrative duties. While this was frustrating at first, she realized that many who leave academia face similar challenges and that the assigned tasks provided an opportunity to apply education in unexpected ways. One of the examples Purcell used was the customer service classes that she was asked to lead. She was able to incorporate sociological principles by expressing them using in the language of the people in charge. She said that her graduate training fostered a suspicion of pragmatism, and a distrust of people who work within compromised institutions and frameworks, but that these expectations weren’t realistic in her current position. She cautioned that adhering to a sense of purity in one’s research simply displaces the problem and forces others to compromise.

Karen Andrade spoke about developing the Berkeley Science Shop, an organization that connects UC Berkeley graduate and undergraduate students with research projects that benefit local non-profits, businesses and governments. By connecting students who wish to do research and organizations that could benefit from scientific research, the organization hopes to foster innovative solutions for local social and environmental problems. The Science Shop connects undergraduate students with graduate research mentors, and allows them to engage in research that has real-world impacts.

In the afternoon, conference attendees gave brief “lightning talks” about their experiences working collaboratively both inside and outside the academy. More than one talk questioned the assumption that collaboration is inherently good. Attendees were concerned that collaboration might be seen as a quick and easy solution to issues of credibility or a lack of diversity, but it can just as easily reproduce silences and impose limitations on ideas. Instead, collaboration needs to be done for the purpose of coming together around a common concern. Stopping to thinking of collaboration as co-labor-ation might be one way to remind ourselves of what is entailed in the act of engaging in collaboration. We should also be attentive to when and how interdisciplinarity and collaboration is good and why it is good in those situations. It can be helpful in exposing the normally invisible theoretical, methodological, and organizational assumptions that are a part of the collective sociality of disciplinary training, but we must be careful not to reproduce those in our collaborative, interdisciplinary work.

Sibyl Diver, a PhD Candidate from UC Berkeley, explained that presenting technical language as a gift might be one way to avoid alienating people with academic jargon. Instead of thinking and acting as though people should be familiar with technical words, she has tried to present them as a tool that could be used by people if they want to, if they find it useful. Several attendees said they liked the idea of using technical language as a gift in this way, rather than as a tool to exclude people.

One theme that ran through the entire day was that the divisions that are invoked to keep research “pure” and inside of the academy can also make it much more difficult to make a difference. Working to enact change outside of an academic context might require the provisional acceptance of logics that we might want to critique within the academy. Natalie’s talk provided an example of this, and Emily York offered an example from her own research as well For Emily, attempts to instantiate changes in the undergraduate nanoengineering curriculum at UCSD might require that she works within capitalist and humanist frameworks that she critiques in her more traditional academic work. Instead of seeing situations like this as a compromise, they could be considered successful in bringing attention to social and ethical issues that would have otherwise been ignored. Transacademic research is one way of being more attentive to these different research products for different intended audiences.

The day ended with concluding thoughts from Jenny. The problem of translation is recurrent, and we talked about the use of translate as a metaphor in this context. In linguistics, translation implies a slight slippage. Do we mean to suggest that, or are we using it differently? It seems we are using translation to describe the process of making research appeal to multiple audiences, but maybe we could find a more productive metaphor that doesn’t suggest incommensurability.

Future meetings will continue to work towards the goal of intercampus collaboration and research that benefits people outside of the academy. This process will require being humble and carefully listening to each other. Jake Metcalf will be working on the UCOP multi-campus research initiative to try to gain institutional and monetary support for our efforts.

Posted in 2013-14, Past Events, Uncategorized.