Purpose and Impact
Leveraging the successful model of faculty lunch series that led to the creation of other institutes at Northwestern, the goal of the Data Science Research Networking Luncheons is to identify significant and upcoming research areas with a big data orientation and to stimulate discussion of these research arenas. These networking luncheons are made possible through an allocation of funding from the Office of the Provost to the Data Science Initiative, and the intention is that these luncheons will lead to new faculty connections and collaborations and set research agendas, possibly resulting in potential new and joint hires, research initiatives and proposals, collaborative publications, and/or the identification of other new projects and opportunities.
Throughout the year, faculty presented to their luncheon colleagues and used 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 included a representative from the Office of Research Development who routinely shared upcoming calls for proposals for external funding and who was able to use their vantage point to suggest faculty connections across disciplines.
Towards the end of the 2017-2018 series, groups began to brainstorm about strengths and barriers to data science research at Northwestern and to look collectively across presentations to identify larger themes for future pursuit. Other successful activities included “speed researching” in which multiple pairs of faculty brainstormed briefly about projects they could embark upon together.
In the end-of-year survey, faculty participants reported that connections and collaborations made during these luncheons have resulted in submitting numerous grant applications and research proposals, co-authoring publications with other group members, co-advising graduate students, guest lecturing in other group members’ classes, and submitting graduate cluster proposals. Group members have also been energized to collaborate beyond the luncheons to bring data science concepts to the larger community through a symposium on micro-grids, a Domain Dinner on Neuroscience, and participation in an international conference on computational social sciences.
It was clear from the survey results that faculty value this type of collaboration vehicle and view it as a differentiator for Northwestern:
- “I had talked to a few experimentalists about collaborating and was aware of some of their methodologies. The luncheons provided a venue where I was able to learn more about their work, they learned more about mine, and we now have more focused problems to work on. I think the luncheons sped up interactions that may have happened much more slowly or been dropped entirely. They formalized the sharing of information.”
- “I was impressed by the variety of research interests in this space, and now I know a lot more about other's work. It's a unique opportunity that the University does not offer at any other level.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “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.”
- “This is one of the best collaboration engines on campus.”