Bridging the divide

07 June 2017

Could increased collaboration between scientific disciplines help overcome immense challenges facing the world?

Climate change. Habitat and biodiversity loss. Food and water security. The burden of disease.

According to the recently established Deakin University Science and Society Network (SSN), these global challenges are interconnected. Solving them will require the breaking down of traditional barriers between social sciences and humanities and life, environmental and materials science.

“Cross-disciplinary approaches between science and the social sciences and humanities are crucial to helping solve the complex local, national and global problems we’re facing,” said Deakin anthropologist and SSN Conveener Professor Emma Kowal.

“The answers that science provides are often not enough to make the changes we need to see in the world.

“If we work together across the disciplinary divides, we can use the different ways we see the world to come up with innovative answers and ask new questions that will give us fresh perspectives on the challenges of our age.”

The SSN was established after Prof Kowal and Deputy Convener Dr Euan Ritchie, from Deakin’s School of Life and Environmental Sciences, realised they both had a similar idea to “promote socially informed scientific research and scientifically literate social research”.

Anthropologist Dr Timothy Neale, a research fellow with the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, is also a Deputy Convener of the SSN.

“Whereas internationally there is a lot of siloing in research institutions, the SSN is committed to silo busting,” Dr Neale said.

As the ability to communicate scientific information with a general audience is now considered a key skill for scientists in order to engage with stakeholders and funding bodies, the SSN will also play an important role in helping members to promote the findings and relevance of their work.

“In addition to generating new insights from our interdisciplinary approach, the effective communication of this information will also be a key focus,” Dr Ritchie said.

Prof Kowal said she talked to scientists across Deakin to test the appeal of a network such as the SSN and discovered overwhelming support for the idea.

“Different disciplines almost speak different languages; we have different ways of seeing the world, so it’s always a challenge to talk to one another and draw on each other’s strengths to produce truly innovative research. The SSN provides a way to facilitate this collaboration,” Prof Kowal said.

“One of our first goals is to create links between researchers, so that all of our research has an innovative edge, whether that’s social scientists collaborating on science projects or scientists with a rigorous science communications and policy translation agenda.

“We want to be the national and international leaders in what cross-disciplinary research can look like.”

The SSN, which has a founding membership of over 50 researchers across all Deakin faculties and Strategic Research Centres, will have its official launch at its inaugural event, the “Emerging Issues in Science and Society” Symposium on July 6.

The Symposium, supported by the Australian Academy of Science, will bring together early career researchers in social science and humanities and researchers from the physical and life sciences to address issues such as bushfire, reptiles, microbial life and superfoods.  

“We’ve paired four vibrant early career social scientists with four scientists. They’re going to address some important questions and challenges from the perspectives of their different disciplines,” Prof Kowal said.

“Hopefully, it will generate some new answers, and some new questions as well.”

The Deakin Science and Society “Emerging Issues in Science and Society” Symposium is on July 6 at Deakin Downtown, Level 12, Tower 2, 727 Collins St, Docklands, 9:30am-3:30pm.

By Deakin Research

For all media enquiries please contact Deakin’s media team.

From left: Deakin Science and Society Network Deputy Convener Dr Euan Ritchie, Convener Professor Emma Kowal and Deputy Convener Dr Timothy Neale

Key Fact

From left: Deakin Science and Society Network Deputy Convener Dr Euan Ritchie, Convener Professor Emma Kowal and Deputy Convener Dr Timothy Neale

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