Overcoming Obstacles in Research Culture: Q & A with Dr. Xavier Cagigas
Health research traditionally has been organized much like a series of cottage industries, lumping researchers into broad areas of scientific interest. Biomedical and behavioral research is complex and requires the expertise of teams of researchers from multiple scientific disciplines to speed its advance.
The broad goal for the NIH Common Find's Interdisciplinary Research Program is to change academic research culture to facilitate interdisciplinary approaches that dissolve academic department boundaries within academic institutions, increase cooperation between institutions, train scientists to cultivate interdisciplinary efforts, and build bridges between the biological sciences and the behavioral and social sciences.
The experience of Xavier E. Cagigas, Ph.D., Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Neurobehavioral Genetics and Neuropsychology at the UCLA Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics, exemplifies how this new interdisciplinary model of research can change academic research culture so that interdisciplinary approaches and team science are a normal mode of conducting research and scientists who pursue these approaches are adequately recognized and rewarded.
Common Fund Asks: Why is the interdisciplinary research model important?
Dr. Cagigas Responds: The greatest asset of interdisciplinary research is that it provides the academic freedom to pursue research questions which are situated at the confluence of various converging disciplines. The next generation of researchers poised to make a lasting impact on science and concomitantly decrease human suffering and bolster public health will come from these types of interdisciplinary settings.
What was the impact of interdisciplinary training on your career?
The NIH Common Fund's support of the UCLA Consortium for Neuropsychiatric Phenomics (CNP) created a unique interdisciplinary training environment that accelerated my career development, and brought me a step closer toward achieving my goal of establishing an independent research program. I have been very fortunate in receiving mentorship from both Drs. Robert Bilder and Nelson Freimer as a postdoctoral research fellow in neurobehavioral genetics and neuropsychology at UCLA. But beyond this, the interdisciplinary environment which has emerged in the CNP provided fertile ground for my own ideas and allowed me to contribute to and benefit from scientific discourse in a way that I never would have imagined at this stage of my career development.
How has interdisciplinary research facilitated your training and development?
Along my career trajectory, I have experienced both a more "traditional"; training environment as a graduate student and a truly interdisciplinary research community as an intern and postdoctoral fellow. I have learned that when a group of researchers reconfigure their research agendas in light of what their colleagues are also investigating, science moves forward at a much more rapid pace with a more coherent direction at various different levels of inquiry simultaneously.
Training in an interdisciplinary setting has allowed me to articulate my own voice and be heard earlier in my career than some of my colleagues who followed more traditional paths. Although it may be easier to begin to publish in a more discipline-specific training environment, I believe it is also more difficult to establish one's independence as a researcher. Postdoctoral training in an interdisciplinary environment helps trainees to find their own research niche more rapidly and opens the door to collaborations and other possibilities which are simply not possible in discipline-specific training settings laying the foundation for publication with a broader more integrated impact.
How will your experience with the interdisciplinary research model affect your future research endeavors?
This program opened my eyes to a new way of carrying out research that will have a significant impact on how my own program of scientific research develops and unfolds. I am committed to extending this interdisciplinary framework and am currently in the process of transitioning into a faculty role as we launch the UCLA Cultural Neuropsychology Initiative (CNI), a program to provide critically needed clinical services, training, and research relevant to the brain health of currently under-served and under-studied populations. This initiative is unique in its specific focus on the science of neuropsychology and will include: a clinical service to provide bilingual/bicultural neurocognitive and psychological assessments to the community, an integrated training program to help develop the next generation of culturally competent clinical and research neuropsychologists, and a new base for clinical and translational research with an explicit interdisciplinary and multicultural focus. Interdisciplinary research settings, such as the CNP and CNI, will undoubtedly continue to benefit the next generation of NIH-supported young investigators in new and exciting ways.
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