Laura Severin on the Perils and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Scholarship

The Perils and Rewards of Interdisciplinary Scholarship for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Laura Severin
Monday, 18 November
12:05-1:15 pm
4270 Talley Student Union

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Feel free to bring a brownbag; we’ll provide dessert

This presentation traces the history of North Carolina State University’s cluster hiring program (The Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program), begun in 2011, and particularly focuses on the challenges of Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, first to be included in the program and, once included, to establish effective partnerships with STEM faculty. Some of the difficulties have involved educating STEM faculty as to the value of Humanities and Social Sciences research, communicating across disciplinary languages, and organizing effective teams across different disciplinary cultures. Despite the challenges of working across truly disparate disciplines, the program has demonstrated, as have others nationally, that successful collaborations are possible and rewarding.

After an overview of the program, I examine the development of three clusters led by Humanities and Social Sciences faculty, Public Science, Visual Narrative, and Genetic Engineering and Society, in order to cull the lessons learned from their experiences about creating successful interdisciplinary partnerships. The faculty in these clusters reflect on both their successes and failures with the program and also provide an analysis of how institutions can better provide the support needed for successful interdisciplinary work. Their experiences suggest that institutions embarking upon large interdisciplinary initiatives are often unprepared for the needs of interdisciplinary faculty. This state of underpreparedness is perhaps most acute in the humanities and social sciences, since these disciplines are often underfunded and lack the traditions of team science. Yet these clusters have persisted because of the intellectual rewards of working with others who are similarly committed to the sustained effort needed to address important societal challenges or questions. Their experiences support that interdisciplinary culture continues to grow and expand in American institutions of higher learning, even though that culture change can seem maddeningly slow at times.

Dr. Laura Severin has worked for North Carolina State University for thirty-four years as a faculty member and an administrator. She is currently the head of the English department, where, among other duties, she is tasked with balancing disciplinary and interdisciplinary commitments. She has been dedicated to interdisciplinary work throughout her career, first leading an interdisciplinary program (Women’s and Gender Studies) from 1996-2001, then managing the College of Humanities and Social Sciences interdisciplinary programs as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs from 2004-2007, and finally facilitating the Chancellor’s Faculty Excellence Program, an interdisciplinary cluster hiring program, as Special Assistant to the Provost from 2012-2015. She has written on cluster hiring for Inside Higher Ed and served as a contributing expert on the APLU publication on cluster hiring. In addition, she has acted as an interdisciplinary consultant for several universities. In collaboration with social science and STEM faculty, she has written several successful interdisciplinary grants, funded by NSF, on women in science; her most significant and most sustained effort was as a co-PI on NC State’s ADVANCE grant (2008-2012), intended to better recruit and retain women faculty and faculty of color. She is a former ACE Fellow (class of 2011-2012), hosted by Duke University to study their approach to cluster hiring. She continues to be an active researcher and teacher in the area of contemporary British poetry. Her research is focused on artistic collaborations between Scottish women poets and visual artists around topics of the environment and human health.