Cross Campus Interdisciplinary Collaboration

Are you interested in raising awareness and starting discussions of interdisciplinary collaboration at your institution? There are a few questions and forms of interdisciplinary collaboration you should consider:

  • Consider among faculty and administrative leaders the importance of interdisciplinarity for your campuses.
  • Discuss various forms of collaboration:
    • Cross-campus theme collaboration: several individuals spanning different fields work together on a common theme (e.g., UNC Water in Our World Research Project)
    • Field creation: when existing research domains are bridged to form new disciplines or sub-disciplines (e.g., The Carolina Health Informatics Program).
    • Problem Orientation: when researchers from multiple disciplines work together to solve a ‘real world’ problem (e.g., CCC Visioning Workshops).
  • Begin the process of creating a positive environment for interdisciplinary collaboration by discussing barriers to interdisciplinary collaboration and potentially removing these barriers.
    • Some barriers might include: budgets (e.g., how resources are shared across administrative units), promotions and incentives (e.g., overcoming disciplinary cultures for work load and impact measures), environmental limitations (e.g., space and facilities sharing), and continuous support (insuring sustainability after seed money or grants expire and when administrative changes take place). In all cases, written MOUs or signed agreements help to mitigate some of these barriers.

Example: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, “Water in Our World”

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, campus-wide research project, ‘Water in Our World,’ is a two-year pan-campus theme, which calls for the University and all of its members and resources to mobilize around a common issue facing the world; in this case it was water. The objectives of this effort included enhancing interdisciplinary research and practice, and setting the stage for future pan-campus themes at UNC. Leadership of this effort was by a steering committee composed of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and community leaders from a wide array of disciplines, which helps highlight the nature of the interdisciplinary effort.

“Early in 2013, we chose our first pan-campus theme called ‘Water in Our World’. There are now hundreds of events and projects related to this theme; it’s a great way to share ideas and work on issues. I thought everyone was going to come to the Steering Committee looking for funds. Instead, they are coming with ideas. The arts program even had an idea for commissioning water-related fine art and music pieces. The faculty are rolling up their sleeves and enjoying it.” 

— Ron, Strauss, Executive Vice Provost & Chief Int’l Officer

Example: The Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP)

The Carolina Health Informatics Program (CHIP) is an interdisciplinary research and training program that plays a key role in fulfilling UNC-Chapel Hill’s commitment to improving human health through health informatics research, data sharing, development, and education.

CHIP facilitates interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty, health care professionals, and students from across the UNC campuses to conduct basic and translational research and to offer graduate training in health informatics for scientists across the disciplines. The various UNC academic units involved include: the School of Information and Library Science, Gillings School of Global Public Health, School of Medicine, School of Nursing, School of Dentistry, Eshelman School of Pharmacy, Department of Computer Science, and the UNC Health Sciences Library. In addition there are various research centers and institutes, research laboratories and group, and industry partners that work in collaboration with UNC via CHIP.

CHIP has removed various barriers of interdisciplinary collaborations by allowing this to be a virtual collaboration. This allows for the program to enhance the building of collaborations and partnerships with minimal concerns for new facilities and new administrative structures.

In addition, the CHIP program has discovered 3 best practices throughout their history of interdisciplinary collaboration (5 years):

  1. Opportunity Overload: Almost everyone wants to work with CHIP or utilize their resources, but making choices and compromises is necessary in a time of high demand. CHIP has chosen their partners and collaborators in strategic manner while taking into account the socio-political ecology of the UNC campuses.
  2. Trust is Highly Influential: Collaborations must be based on a sense of trust; based on past interactions among units and well as among unit leaders, collaborations based on power roles are not sustainable. It is important to build collaborations based on mutual interest and cohesive expectations.
  3. Distinguish Collaboration: Collaboration between faculty members is essential to build larger kinds of collaborative teams and groups. Faculty – Faculty collaboration enables potential unit – unit collaboration.



Harvard Interdisciplinary Work Collaboration 

Water In Our World

The Carolina Health Informatics Program

The Computing Community Consortium