Impact and Outcomes
Throughout the research networking luncheon series of both 2017-2018 and 2018-2019, faculty presented to their colleagues, using their presentations as vehicles to share recent projects; to solicit new ideas, approaches, and methods for works in progress; to explore research challenges faced; and to find new collaborators. The luncheons also provided an ideal venue for announcing and promoting upcoming events both on the Northwestern campus and in the Chicago area. Each group generally included representatives from the Office of Research Development and the Office of Foundation Relations, who routinely shared upcoming calls for proposals for external funding and who used their vantage points to suggest faculty connections across disciplines.
Based on the results of end-of-year feedback surveys, it is clear that faculty value this type of collaboration mechanism and view it as a differentiator for Northwestern:
- “This is one of the best collaboration engines on campus.”
- “This is a wonderful effort, and I think it is one of the things that makes Northwestern special – always trying to identify the next big research area.”
- “I am very glad to be connected to a community of researchers whom I likely would not have met otherwise. I have found significant overlap in research interests with faculty in a wide range of departments, and I look forward to future conversations and potential collaborations with them.”
- “There are few opportunities for us to interact across departments and schools. We know many PIs of course, but we do not know what we do not know. This year I have learned a lot through these lunchtime meetings, and this will no doubt translate into collaborations in the near future and is leading to new and interesting conversations.”
- “I think the luncheons sped up interactions that may have happened much more slowly or been dropped entirely. They formalized the sharing of information.”
- “This was an especially valuable experience as a young faculty member. It is hard to make connections across departmental barriers, and this luncheon series helped connect me with several potential collaborators.”
Over the past two years, faculty participants reported that connections and collaborations made during these luncheons led to guest lecturing in other group members’ classes, designing new interdisciplinary undergraduate course modules, submitting graduate cluster proposals, co-advising graduate students, co-hosting workshops and conferences, and co-authoring publications. Group members have also been energized to collaborate beyond the luncheons to bring research concepts to the larger community through symposia on topics such as micro-grids and water in Israel and the Middle East, a Domain Dinner on neuroscience, and participation in an international conference on computational social sciences. On a larger scale, research collaborations fostered through the luncheon series have led to several submissions of grant proposals to external agencies such as the National Science Foundation (NSF) on topics including quantitative biology, water quality monitoring, sustainable urban systems, and data science corps.
Of particular note is the recent award of an NSF Convergence Accelerator grant for the Northwestern Open Access to Court Records Initiative (NOACRI), which is working to build a platform that will empower anyone who has a question about federal court records to easily find their answer. The vision of the project is to build a free public platform that uses AI (artificial intelligence) to surface insights into the federal court’s systematic patterns and behaviors and to establish a robust community of legal professionals, journalists, researchers, activists, and others who can use this platform to ensure that the legal system is efficient, fair, and accurate. The proposal was directly inspired by a faculty presentation at a Computational Social Science – Law luncheon in 2018, and the project now includes a group of 16 Northwestern professors from Data Science, Computer Science, Journalism, Social Science, and Law.