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Expert view – inside the Scottish Crucible

10 June 2015

How will the next generation of academics help solve society’s major problems? Dr Robin Sloan takes us inside the Scottish Crucible, a programme that brings together early career researchers from a wide range of subjects.

Scottish Crucible helps highly promising academics from different university and different backgrounds meet, discuss their work and plan new collaborative projects.

Participants are selected from a competitive process and spend three two-day seminars understanding how their research fits into a wider social context, and how they can communicate what they do with government and the public.

What has the Scottish Crucible involved so far?

“In the first workshop we had intensive training in media relations and policy making, with sessions delivered by both journalists and civil servants. Perhaps the biggest eye opener for us was the difference in timescales. In comparison to the press and to politics, we in academia seem to operate at an almost glacial rate.

“Our deadlines are usually prioritised around grants, paper submissions, and teaching responsibilities. This often means that we are dealing with tasks over several days or weeks. It is rare that we are under pressure to turn around a task in just a few hours, or even by the next day. My appreciation of the tightness of deadlines in both media and politics has now massively improved.

“I think that being sensitive to the change in pace is important if we are to seek to disseminate our knowledge into the public sphere and inform policy making.

“We were also challenged to improve the clarity and accessibility of our writing, and to talk succinctly and clearly about our research. It is surprisingly easy to fall into the trap of jargon or specialist terminology, or indeed to lose sight of the bigger picture when you are so focused on the minuscule details of your research.”

Why is it important for researchers from different disciplines to work together?

“This is something I value greatly, having completed a PhD that was informed by both design and psychology. I think that it’s very easy to get comfortable in our disciplinary silos, particularly when a deep subject knowledge is required to conduct our research. But real-world problems are not so easily pigeon-holed as discipline-specific issues.

“If our goal as researchers is not just to contribute to knowledge, but also to develop innovative solutions to problems faced by society, then arts, humanities, and STEM researchers need to work together. Scottish Crucible is an excellent opportunity for early career researchers to form collaborative relationships across disciplinary divides.”

What are Abertay's strengths in inter-disciplinary working?

“As a result of our small size but relatively broad range of disciplines, I’d say that interdisciplinary collaboration is one of our key strengths. Even within my own school I work closely with mathematicians, programmers, artists, designers, and sound engineers on a daily basis.

“The recent establishment of the Graduate School has also been a fantastic step forward for interdisciplinary research at Abertay. It has created a central hub for all of our research students and staff to come together, share ideas, and formulate project ideas.

“In my time at Abertay I have worked closely with colleagues from disciplines as varied as psychology, sociology, computing, engineering and earth sciences. There are few universities that house so many disciplines in the one building, and I think that we are going from strength to strength.”

What are your plans for developing your research in the future?

“We’ve already got a strong reputation in teaching excellence in computer games, which is my subject area. Computer games is by definition a multidisciplinary subject area, and I am very keen to develop internal and external networks that will facilitate cutting-edge research in both game design and the study of games culture.

“In particular I am interested in the development of games that have educational goals, social impact, and cultural value. This means working with experts in other academic disciplines.

“I’ve already started working on some initial ideas with fellow Scottish Crucible participants, so I’m really looking forward to the remaining workshop.”

To learn more about study and researching in this area, please see the School of Arts, Media and Computer Games pages.

Courses available in this area include:

  • BA (Hons) Computer Arts
  • BSc (Hons) Computer Game Applications Development
  • BSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology
  • BA (Hons) Creative Sound Production
  • BA (Hons) Game Design & Production Management
  • MProf Games Development
  • MSc Computer Games Technology
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