By Wendy Sarubbi | October 30, 2013 4:58 pm

About 65 UCF researchers, with specialties ranging from medicine to education, hospitality to chemistry, met at the College of Medicine October 28 to discuss multidisciplinary research that will solve society’s biggest problems – and provide opportunities for new funding in increasingly competitive times.

The Research Network Initiative brought together faculty from all across the university to begin conversations on joint projects. As part of the event, College of Medicine M.D. students took faculty on tours of the new medical education building at Lake Nona. Researchers then broke into groups based on shared interests, including chronic disease management, neurology, psycho-neuro immunology, health information technology and public health.

Speakers, including Dr. Andrew Daire from the UCF College of Education, said collaboration is necessary as federal funding agencies reduce dollars for research and look for more interdisciplinary efforts that solve specific problems. Such changes require a new look at how research is done, he said. “We’re really talking about evolution here at UCF,” Dr. Daire said. “This focus and emphasis on external funding creates a culture where folks are involved in impactful, high-quality research.”

College of Medicine Faculty Development Director Denise Kay noted that national agencies like the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, Department of Defense and Department of Education are looking to fund research that can solve national problems, requiring teams of scientists with different perspectives to work together for a solution. “They’re funding more multidisciplinary, collaborative projects across agencies and institutions,” she said. “It’s a different model than what’s been funded historically.”

Dr. Lori Boardman, assistant dean for medical education, described the role of interdisciplinary efforts when she described part of the medical school curriculum that includes the study of fine art. In addition to her M.D. degree, Dr. Boardman holds a Master’s degree in art history.  She emphasized how the study of art challenges students to see more detail in their patients’ health and to provide a more thorough diagnosis. “Learning to ‘look’ really is an experiential process, and it’s one that can be provided through using fine arts,” Dr. Boardman said. She showed several examples of how a work of art seemed very simple at first glance, but actually had much more complex detail upon further inspection.

The October 28 event was the latest in a series of meetings aimed at igniting collaborative research. On October 18, College of Medicine and College of Engineering and Computer Science faculty met in a “speed dating” event that helped researchers learn about each other’s specialties and interests. The medical school has also held networking events between basic scientists and clinicians and researchers from its Medical City partners.

Such discussions have potential benefits to all, Dr. Kay said. “It makes UCF better and it builds our reputation as a research university,” she said. “More importantly, the types of problems collaborative researchers are solving will hopefully help biomedicine, patient care and the community at large.”

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