“Most other universities are more prescriptive — they dictate what will be done. This is more of a ‘grounds up’ approach: individuals come up with best ideas and we support the best ones,” said Randolph Hall, vice president of research.
Although other universities have interdisciplinary research, USC is unique in having a program where faculty-submitted proposals compete for funding, Hall said.
“We let anyone from the faculty apply for funding and choose the best ones,” he said.
Over the next three years, five research communities will receive funding for workshops, seminars and retreats. The individual research projects are funded through other means, while the Research Collaboration Fund provides a community to improve the quality of research.
After three years, communities can re-apply for continued funding.
The five proposals chosen were: game theory and human behavior, the USC Water Institute, digital humanities publishing, the political economy of the Pacific Rim and brain health during development and aging in urban environments.
Four other projects are receiving one-year seed grants.
The idea for the research fund started last fall in the academic senate, and the research office began asking for proposals in February. The funding comes from the general university research fund in the provost’s office.
The game theory and human behavior community, led by computer science professor Milind Tambe and psychology professor Richard John, will focus on applying game theory and other mathematical approaches like it to the social sciences.
The professors originally collaborated while working on a security system for airports that is currently used at the Los Angeles International Airport.
“As a computer scientist I have been trained to think about optimizing computer algorithms,” Tambe said. “It takes some time to understand the different priorities, but it is very interesting.”
The group has already had a research retreat for professors in the community, plans on having a game theory week in the spring with labs and open houses, and wants to introduce game theory and to K-12 classrooms, Tambe said.
Rong Yang, a second-year doctoral student studying computer science, said she enjoyed doing research in the community.
“In other research, it was just designing algorithms, and the way you verify the algorithms is with a computer simulation. It’s much easier because you can control all the parts,” Yang said.
Cinema professor Tara McPherson co-leads the digital humanities community. She said that her group hopes to help develop ways for scholars in the humanities to present their research in ways that integrate multimedia technology.
“Scholars spend a lot of time going through archives and analyzing them. Many archives are online. We can imagine a way that scholars can publish research in the archive and about the archive,” McPherson said. “[This] generation is very familiar with things like YouTube and Flickr. We like to imagine what would happen if a generation of scholars incorporated media like that into their research and publishing.”
She said that there are about 18 people in the community, and that they hope to help scholars publish works for the 21st century.
The communities are diverse, but all function as ways for faculty and students to share research across disciplines in a frictionless, natural way.
“I would like to see collaborative research that would not otherwise occur, that engages students and faculty in a creative way to address society’s biggest challenges,” Hall said.