Great ideas mingle in the name of research

Researchers engage in discussion.

Matchmaking formulas aren’t just for dating sites anymore. At Northern Arizona University they are being used to pair researchers who are short on time and big on ideas.

Last week, the Office of the Vice President for Research hosted a research speed meeting designed to make it easier for NAU researchers across campus from different disciplines to meet, share common interests and collaborate.

“Universities of our size often have siloed departments and faculty often have limited or only accidental opportunities to meet other faculty who might have synergistic research interests,” said NAU President Rita Cheng to the crowd of 38 active researchers. “Today is about breaking down silos, creating new partnerships and winning federal and foundation awards for interdisciplinary research teams.”

Over the span of an afternoon, participants exchanged contact information and had a series of two-minute conversations about their research interests. They explored ideas across disciplines— from biological and social sciences to business and computing—to make new connections outside their colleges, departments and institutes.

“I really enjoyed having the opportunity to meet many new colleagues,” said Natalie Cawood, director of the Social Work Program. “I particularly appreciated the opportunity to speak with faculty from the College of Health and Human Services, Business, and Earth Sciences. It allowed for discussions about how areas within my profession of social work and the field of behavioral health could intersect with these other fields in some very exciting ways. “

According to Cheng, NAU has been engaged in a strategic initiative to build its targeted research capacity, and part of that initiative is to expand its interdisciplinary research. Funding agencies, industry partners and large funded research projects often require this type of collaboration, and while there are examples at NAU where researchers are currently collaborating, there is potential for more.

Stephen Shuster, professor of invertebrate zoology in the Department of Biological Sciences, said the event allowed him to meet a large number of people in a casual setting and helped to foster at least one possible collaborative project with a researcher in the School of Forestry.

At the close of the event, participants entered into a drawing for two $500 research incentive prizes and mingled in a social hour to wrap-up conversations and explore connections more in-depth.

Cawood said she was drawn to the event because it sounded like a fun way to connect with others across campus. She added that she especially appreciates the university providing support for her research efforts.

“When you first arrive at NAU, it can be challenging to make connections, as you are trying to manage so many different responsibilities in a new environment. It takes time to find mentors and potential collaborators, particularly outside of one’s discipline.”

The speed networking event was the first of its kind on campus. The plan is to have more in the future.

“I think it is a great idea to do these on a regular basis,” Shuster said. “It encourages collegiality within the university, and it also increases research.”