One of the key missions of the Future Platforms is to advance interdisciplinary approaches and methods within SLU by initiating and enabling collaboration across scientific boundaries. As part of this work, a research residency was organised for the second year in a row, with the aim of supporting inter- and transdisciplinary skills development and offering a match-making opportunity.
For two days in September, nine SLU researchers traveled to the Philipssonska gården just outside Strängnäs. The group consisted of senior as well as junior researchers from three different faculties, all bringing different interests and expertise to the table - for example from sanitation systems, multifunctional landscapes to resilient production systems, molecular biology and citizen science. The hope was to provide inspiration and create a forum for curious conversations about the environment and sustainability in combination with the forest, food and the environment.
Meeting across disciplinary boundaries is a process that takes time and involves many skills
Understanding how to effectively collaborate across disciplinary boundaries is essential, and the hope for the research residency was to initiate a transformative process among its participants.
Ingrid Öborn, Professor of Agricultural Cropping Systems at the Department of Plant Production Ecology, set the tone on the first day by delivering an inspirational lecture based on her experience in interdisciplinary collaborations. Ingrid has extensive experience of working across disciplinary boundaries, both in Sweden and abroad, for example with countries in East Africa and Southeast Asia.
"Openness, respect, humility, and above all, patience are some examples of key components and qualities needed to succeed," says Ingrid. "If you want to do research in an interdisciplinary context, it is vital to broaden your perspective and recognize how your research can contribute expertise within a broader context. The ability to see the bigger picture and maintain curiosity about others' perspectives is crucial for creating a win-win situation for all involved in the process, and for collectively contributing to socially impactful research. This might not be a type of research that appeals to all researchers, and it's important to acknowledge and respect that fact," Ingrid adds.
Some reflections from the participants
We took the chance to ask three questions to some of the participants.
Why did you apply for this research residency?
"To develop my network within SLU," says Lucas Dawson, who is a researcher at the School for Forest Management. "I am based far from other colleagues and so am often on the lookout for opportunities to meet and discuss with new colleagues. Also, I work in several transdisciplinary projects concerning Forests, Urban landscapes, and Food landscapes, and so I was interested to learn more about the SLU Futures platforms for each of these and to better understand how I might connect my research with these platforms," says Lucas.
"I applied for this research camp to expand my network, learn about interdisciplinary research, and understand the potential applications of combining the knowledge of different SLU researchers in my own research area and exploring common grounds," says Hector Marina, who is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics.
Did you gain new insights into your own research when meeting researchers from other disciplines?
"Definitely," says Verena Germann, Postdoctor at the Department of Energy and Technology. On the one hand its insightful to present my research to researchers from other disciplines, reflect on what vocabulary to use and get feedback from them. "On the other hand, it also helps to see connections and links between the disciplines one might now easily think of. As an example, I work mainly on how to safely bring nutrients from our sanitation system (wastewater, urine …) as fertilizer back to agriculture, but was inspired by peers working in the field of forestry as I haven’t really thought a lot yet about nutrient management in (managed) forests," says Verena.
Rosario Garcia Gil, who is a Senior Lecturer at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, also thought that the camp gave her new insights.
"It was quite an exercise to explain my research to colleagues from other fields and put it in the context of transdisciplinary research ideas. It was also interesting to learn how other colleagues think when they build new research ideas, which will surely inspire my future research applications," says Rosario.
What was most inspiring and why?
"I guess the most inspiring was meeting all the other participants, hearing what they are working on and realizing the diversity of research that is done at SLU. It was not only inspiring in itself but also in terms of understanding the interdisciplinary potential for future research that is there," says Verena.
"I think that it was inspiring to discover the extent to which problems relating to complex systems dynamics are more widely acknowledged as a core focus in different research domains. Problems of complexity have previously been ignored in favor of disciplinary research. Complex systems dynamics and related concepts like resilience etc. appear to have become much more accepted as a legitimate scientific endeavour. In general, it is inspiring to work with new scientists in a short, concentrated effort. It is fun to listen to smart people say smart things from different perspectives," says Lucas.
"Except for the inspiration talk, I would say that getting to know all the people and their current research interests and then during the exercise combining these experiences into a single and (in our case) very interesting application was, to say the least, amusing and inspiring," says Hector.