Can we help the next generation of policy makers, business leaders and citizens to become creative, critical and independent thinkers? Can we make them aware of the nature of the problems they will be confronted with? Can we strengthen their capacity to foster and lead stakeholder processes to address these problems?
Should a doctoral student specialise in transdisciplinary sustainable development research? What are the opportunities and challenges associated with undertaking a program that requires research integration and implementation?
At the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna in Austria, teams of PhD-students and academic supervisors collaborated with representatives from regions, cities, public authorities, businesses or civil society to solve pressing and often wicked sustainability problems. We learnt the following ten lessons.
How to give others your hard-won insights so that their work can be more informed, efficient, and effective? As I’ve gotten older, it is something that I think about more.
It is widely recognized that the environment is an integrated but also “open” system. As a result, when working with issues relating to the environment we are faced with the unsatisfying fact that we won’t know “truth”. We develop an understanding that is consistent with what we currently know and what we consider state-of-the-practice methods. But, we can never be sure that more observations or different methods would not result in different insights.
In an earlier post on this blog, Mark Brunson posed the questions: How does an ecologist become “translational”? What training is needed to venture beyond the lab or university and to engage with the potential beneficiaries or users of research? Here I offer my own thoughts as someone who started working to “become translational” halfway through a traditional ecology Ph.D. program.
Although the focus of this blog post is on translational ecology and on specific resources for graduate students in the U.S., I suggest the ideas are more widely applicable.
What does it mean to include ‘a social scientist’ in a team tackling complex problems? Here I focus on complex environmental problems and how biophysical and social scientists work together. I’m curious if social scientists face the same issues in other problem areas, such as health.
Things have improved since my early academic career, when I was often asked to justify why a social scientist deserved a seat at the table when discussing environmental questions. It seemed that even supportive natural scientists were motivated to engage their social science colleagues only to ‘fix’ some type of problem caused by people (e.g., politicians, decision-makers, managers, the “general public”).
While it’s now normal for social scientists to be included, they tend to be lumped together, unlike the biophysical scientists who are differentiated into a range of disciplines with relevant specialization areas.
How can we effectively teach interdisciplinary research to undergraduate and masters students? What is needed to encompass research ranging from cultural analysis of an Etruscan religious symbol to the search for a sustainable solution for tomato farming in drying areas? Given that there is no predetermined set of theories, methods and insights, as is the case with disciplinary research, what would an interdisciplinary textbook cover? How can such a textbook accommodate the fact that interdisciplinary research usually requires students to collaborate with each other, for which they also need to be able to articulate their own cognitive processes?
How does an ecologist become translational? What training is needed to venture beyond the lab or university and to engage with the potential beneficiaries or users of their research? To communicate with (and listen to) a lay audience, advise policymaking processes, initiate a citizen science project, or involve stakeholders in the design, analysis, and interpretation of research?
William Schlesinger (2010), in coining the term translational ecology, warned that “[u]nless the discoveries of ecological science are rapidly translated into meaningful actions, they will remain quietly archived while the biosphere degrades.”
By BinBin Pearce, Carolina Adler and Christian Pohl
Are there innovative methods that enable students to frame and confront the complexity of real-world problems in the context of sustainable development? Which learning approaches help students engage with design thinking to understand a particular system, and also to start thinking about responsible solutions? Which approaches enable students to reflect on their own actions, as well as become aware of the importance of diverse stakeholder perspectives and how these play out in real-world contexts?
At Arizona State University (U.S.) various programs exist – across its schools and colleges – that allow students to work in transdisciplinary settings. These programs are avant-garde in many respects, e.g., pedagogical design, students’ learning outcomes, relationships with practice partners, implementation with real-world impact. Our experience with building a transdisciplinary and solution-oriented learning program at the School of Sustainability is documented in the article ‘Integrating Problem-and Project-based Learning into Sustainability Programs‘.