Smith, Mark and El Haj, AJ In The Same Room - practical methods to encourage collaboration across scientific disciplines. In: Bridging the Gaps Network Event, 8 Sep 2011, University of the West of England.

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Introduction: This article draws together key successes from the “Modelling Methods for Medical Engineering (3ME) Initiative” over four years. It examines the needs for the initiative, the mechanisms used, lessons learned and the outcomes achieved so far. The national need to support research across disciplines, and how Keele responded The “Modelling Methods for Medical Engineering (3ME) Initiative” which was funded by the Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) at Keele University from April 2008 to July 2011. EPSRC support came through its experimental “Bridging the Gaps” programme (BtG) which was set up to build a cross-disciplinary culture in UK universities, and in particular to encourage very novel research ideas at the boundaries of traditional disciplines whose members would never normally meet. Initially BtG funding focussed on IT based collaborations, the second and third calls for proposals gradually broadening the remit. The 3ME Initiative won its grant in the second BtG round and although it was one of the smaller scale awards, its members also took an active part in the shaping and evaluating the national programme. The 3ME Initiative proposed a very unusual collaboration to bring together four different discipline groups: - biomedical engineers - applied mathematicians - geophysicists - clincians together with input from the medical engineering industry and international collaborators. Drive behind the application in 2006-07 came from the biomedical engineers, seeking modelling expertise in several projects from geologists who regularly use imaging and modelling techniques and the mathematicians with clear expertise in modelling. A previous BBSRC/EPSRC/MRC-funded stem cell project in 2005, led by Prof Alicia El Haj, had already shown that collaborative approaches could extend the capabilities to address major questions in biomedicine. It was clear that there were state-of-the-art modelling and imaging techniques being developed in other fields at Keele that were very valuable to current biomedical projects. Although an unusual combination, it fitted well with the objectives EPSRC had set for BtG and also matched the common submission of several members of the groups to RAE2008. Mechanisms used in the Collaboration A variety of mechanisms were proposed by the 3ME Initiative and some of them were novel and untried. In all the mechnisms employed the key aim was to enable researchers to meet and discuss current challenges for their research programme. This involved in many cases learning a new language and understanding practices within certain disciplines. After an initial ‘Speed dating session’ for initial contacts between academics, the implementation of three key mechanisms to encourage collaboration focussed on: 1. Researchers in Residence: in which researchers were offered a paid secondment to work in the culture of laboratories in another discipline for several months, eg mathematician in a biomedical laboratory, biomedical scientist in a geophysical modelling suite 2. Sandpits: intensive three-day residential experiences with diverse presentations, workshops, opportunities for wider discussions, socialising and sports. Sandpits brought into contact researchers who had, and would not normally meet, a very successful example of a resulting collaboration being work set up between a leading orthopaedic surgeon and a computer scientist around techniques for cell counting. 3. Pilot Projects: seed-corn funding awarded to very speculative new collaborations across the disciplines, through a highly competitive “Dragons Den” approach. 4. Back-to-Back Seminars in which a single subject or problem was tackled in two 40 minute talks by researchers from different disciplines, followed by extended discussion. The role of the 3ME Initiative Steering Group in designing the funded activities, reflecting on their success and responding to changing demand was crucial. Not all mechanisms put forward in the original proposal to EPSRC proved to be successful, for example an online industry forum was not successfully implemented. Notable achievements and longer term positive effects derived from the 3ME Initiative at Keele include the encouragement and “pump-priming” of several Early Career Researchers, and the exposure of many laboratory based projects to relevant industry and clinicians. Introducing career young researchers to the potential of cross disciplinary research has the potential to radically alter current departmental culture within British Universities. The 3ME Initiative has led to further interdisciplinary activities centred on Keele, such as the EPSRC “Creativity@Home” concept. It also won an extension award from EPSRC which has broadened the scope to include social science input with Workshops now running with Humanities subjects such as Philosophy, English and Music. In addition, the Medical Research Council Centenary funds are a source to focus on the role of Early Career Researchers. Conclusions: The experiences of the 3ME Initiative need to be seen in the context of the other 22 BtG awards around the UK and an evaluation undertaken by EPSRC in 2010[1]. The award to Keele has produced an interdisciplinary community between these groups where one did not exist before and the opportunities arising from this are long lasting with clear evidence of new programmes which have now been funded through the research councils. Clear links have been made between the successful mechanisms and specific collaborations, publications and grant applications, which wouldn’t have occurred had the researchers not been encouraged to meet and talk “in the same room”. References: [1] McNeill H (2010) Evaluation of the Engineering and Physical Sciences (EPSRC) Bridging the Gaps Scheme; EPSRC Note: This article arises from a presentation made on behalf of the Keele EPSRC "Bridging the Gaps" grant EP/F033125/1 which supported the 3ME Initiative, the subject of a short presentation at the Bridging the Gaps Network event at the University of the West of England on 8 September 2011.

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Lecture)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Bridging the Gaps Network event at the University of the West of England on 8 September 2011.
Subjects: R Medicine > R Medicine (General)
Divisions: Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences > Institute for Science and Technology in Medicine
Related URLs:
Depositing User: Symplectic
Date Deposited: 28 Nov 2014 10:39
Last Modified: 02 Mar 2015 11:13

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