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New Campus Effort—the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative

New Campus Effort—the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative

Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative

Illinois scientists didn’t invent happiness, but they did develop its scientific study. They also revolutionized the field of organ donation, created the nation’s first PhD program in Accountancy, taught the world how to design surveys, and regularly advise national and international organizations like the World Bank, the OECD, and the Social Security Administration.

“Illinois is home to some of the foremost social and behavioral scientists in the world, people who make cutting-edge contributions to areas as disparate as environmental health, the study of war, or the way people make decisions about their retirement,” said Brent Roberts, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “But they are dispersed across the university (in 45+ units!) and no single college or department exclusively represents their interests.”

To support and enhance the work of these researchers, Roberts is leading a new campus effort—the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Initiative—to explore how to better enhance collaboration, facilitate large-scale, interdisciplinary research projects and support early career researchers.

“While the breadth of social and behavioral sciences expertise on campus is noteworthy, it’s also a challenge—we just don’t have many naturally occurring opportunities to come together to leverage our intellectual strengths,” said Roberts. “The SBSRI will help create research and pedagogical synergies not typically found in individual units.”

The SBSRI is in early planning stages, and Roberts and Marie Heffernan, a Research Development Specialist, are working with a Steering Committee to help prioritize activities for the coming academic year. Part of the planning process includes a survey of the Social and Behavioral Sciences Research Community—which currently has more than 120 responses. Programming could include team building activities, mentoring, seed funding opportunities, proposal development support, and grantseeking workshops, among many other possibilities.

“Those of us who have been at this for a while know how challenging it can be to get that first big grant,” said Roberts.  “And while we hope our efforts will support early career faculty, we’re also hearing from tenured faculty that there are services and programs that would help them pursue large-scale projects. We want to provide tangible support to help bring more resources to the social sciences from top to bottom at the University of Illinois."

The initiative is a result of a report from the Social and Behavioral Sciences Working Group, which submitted recommendations to the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research in 2015.

“Ensuring that our faculty have access to the programs and services that enable research of the highest quality—regardless of discipline—is a priority for this campus,” said Peter Schiffer, the vice chancellor for research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  “We must carefully steward our resources right now, so we really have to think of innovative ways to approach this.”

Illinois is widely noted for research excellence, even among the nation’s most elite institutions: for the last six years running, the campus has been awarded more NSF funding than any other university in the world. Among other institutions of higher education, we rank #28 in federally supported R&D expenditures in the Social and Behavioral Sciences. 

Stay up-to-date with SBSRI activities at: