Advancing Research Excellence
—By Aaron Sullivan, assistant editor
The first in a series of five forums highlighting the components of the Academic Compass, the Advancing Research Excellence Forum was held November 4 in the Medical Education and Research Building, one the health science campus’s newest and most stunning structures. Organized by the combined efforts of Temple faculty, the Office of the Provost, the Senior Vice Provost for Research and Graduate Education, and the Senior Vice Provost for Strategic Initiatives and Communications, the forum brought together the faculty from thirteen different schools and colleges, allowed them to share their research goals and strategies and, hopefully, fostered new interdisciplinary connections. Reflecting on the results of Temple’s most recent Periodic Program Review, Provost Dick Englert’s opening remarks noted that the external review teams who had come to evaluate Temple had consistently commented on the difficulty faculty had communicating and interacting across collegial and departmental boundaries. The Advancing Research Excellence Forum was meant to help bridge these divides.
The bulk of the forum was given to the faculty’s presentations of their research. The breadth and variety of the participants’ intellectual pursuits was truly impressive. As the session moved from presentation to presentation, one was struck by the diversity, not only in what is being researched, but in understandings of what research means and how it should be conducted. Thankfully, the structure of the forum succeeded in making this diversity enlightening rather than competitive. At times, however, the rapid change from one topic and approach to another could be overwhelming. A study on the science of informatics gave way to a theoretical exploration of the “gray space” between absolutes; a series of graphs with error bars reflecting the impact of cannabinoids on the immune system was followed by a quote from Thomas Jefferson on the nature of westward expansion. Dr. Steven Zohn, who rose to follow a presentation on the development of effective drug treatments with comments on the secular cantatas of an eighteenth-century composer, aptly captured the experience with an opening quote from Monty Python: “And now for something completely different.”
And yet, perhaps not completely different. For those who could overcome the mentally sedative effect of the constantly shifting terminology and frames of reference, some important threads of continuity emerged (aside from the ubiquitous use of PowerPoint). Time and again presenters spoke of how other disciplines had shaped their own research; time and again they offered their services, insights and collaboration to any of their fellows who desired it. The later presenters remarked on the work of those who had come before them, making small connections which, perhaps, will form the seeds of larger partnerships in the future. Appropriately enough, the forum ended with a “Research and Scholarship Networking Event.”
In sum, the Advancing Research Excellence Forum was an intriguing and enlightening event. It addressed itself to a felt shortcoming of the university and took a firm, if small, step toward rectifying it. In the end, the future of interdisciplinary understanding and collaboration at Temple will depend on the willingness of the faculty to bridge collegial and departmental divides, and on the support of the administration in encouraging such endeavors, outside of the occasional forum.