Sources for Scholars Explores the Possibilities for Collaboration and Innovation Across Grounds

September 07, 2010

September 7, 2010 — An event making its debut Friday aims to bring together University of Virginia faculty from across Grounds in an effort to spark collaboration and creativity.

"The Sources for Scholars event is an invitation to explore the diverse talents and expertise of faculty colleagues from across disciplines, schools and Grounds," said Dr. Sharon L. Hostler, vice provost for faculty development and McLemore Birdsong Professor of Pediatrics. "This event celebrates the very core of the research university: the generation of new knowledge and the training of the next generation of scholars.

"And it might even lead to some collaborative conversations or a dance step across a discipline boundary," Hostler said.

The event, to be held Friday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Alumni Hall, will begin with a talk by Erwin Gianchandani, director of the national Computing Community Consortium at the Computing Research Association in Washington, and includes free lunch and an open house featuring representatives from more than 30 centers, institutes and programs at U.Va. seeking and supporting new possibilities and pathways for collaboration in academic work.

Gianchandani, a "triple 'Hoo" who received his Ph.D. in biomedical engineering from the University in 2009, will speak at 11 a.m. on "Setting a Research Agenda at a National Level." He plans to describe how research universities can reinforce their role as creators and discoverers of new knowledge by helping set the national agenda, including cross-disciplinary collaboration.

"The Google search engine algorithm, MRIs, airplane de-icers, barcodes, Doppler weather radars – these all had their origins in basic university research," Gianchandani said. "Communicating to policymakers and funding agents the value of basic research – and particularly the significance of today's discoveries in addressing tomorrow's fundamental and practical challenges – is as critical a responsibility as ever."

"The more relationships there are in research, the denser and healthier the ecosystem," said William Sherman, associate professor of architecture and founding director of the Innovation Initiative, a new pan-university project from the Vice President for Research office intended to design programs and spaces that will serve as catalysts for cross-disciplinary research collaborations and institutional partnerships.

At a decentralized university such as U.Va., it can be difficult to know what other faculty members are working on in different disciplines and departments, said Margaret Harden, director of U.Va.'s Institute for Faculty Advancement, which is part of the Office of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development. Harden and staff from the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities have been instrumental both in developing the Faculty Development Hub website and organizing the Sept. 10 event.

"If a faculty member wants to do something new to collaborate on something, it's hard to know where to go," interim IATH director Worthy Martin said.

One path they might want to choose is digital scholarship, and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities is there to help, he said. Newcomers to the field are sometimes intimidated by the "advanced" in the institute's title, he noted; it doesn't mean a professor interested in creating a Web-based project has to know how to do it. The expertise comes from the IATH staff.

For English professor Alison Booth, digital scholarship has opened a new world of study. As the 2010-12 IATH Resident Fellow, she is developing a project promoting online collaborative research on 19th- and 20th-century, English-language collections of biographies of women.

When Booth was publishing her 2004 book, "How to Make It as a Woman: Collective Biographical History from Victoria to the Present," the U.Va. Library's Scholars' Lab (formerly the E-Text Center) helped her turn the bibliography of more than 1,200 books into a website and her present project, "Collective Biographies of Women: An Annotated Bibliography."

"The library staff gradually educated me, and it got me excited about this work," Booth said. "Digital humanities is highly collaborative. For me, it was a real shift from working on my scholarship alone to it being more like running a lab. I couldn't do it alone."

Working with texts online has changed the nature of her work, Booth said. She and her helpers are creating computer tools that allow for analysis of many books, revealing patterns that would be hard and more time-consuming to study otherwise.

Booth will be one of a group of faculty members benefiting from U.Va.'s resources who will be on hand at the open house to talk informally with visitors about their experiences.

"Some faculty are well-networked, and some not as well," said Gertrude Fraser, vice provost for recruitment and retention. Promoting open access to U.Va.'s resources "contributes to equity," she said.

"The complexity of today's problems and potential solutions makes this important, and more diverse perspectives can help address those problems," she said.

Finding efficient ways to connect faculty members might result not only in interdisciplinary research, but also in boosting faculty retention, Fraser said.

Sponsored by the offices of the Vice Provost for Faculty Development and the Vice Provost for Recruitment and Retention, in collaboration with the office of the Vice President for Research and the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities, Sources for Scholars is an opportunity for faculty to learn more about, and contribute to, innovative approaches to scholarship.