Bridging Barriers

In his State of the University Address, President Gregory L. Fenves announced a major new research initiative: Bridging Barriers. This new effort will supplement – not supplant – the vibrant research and scholarship efforts already taking place within individual disciplines or across closely related fields at The University of Texas at Austin.

“Last year, in my inaugural speech, I said the toughest questions facing humanity and the world cross the boundaries of existing knowledge and that we must take an interdisciplinary approach to address them. Breakthroughs happen when we tear down silos of knowledge. And we are doing that now.

We are on the cusp of unleashing our potential in many fields — developing new sciences; advancing our understanding of societies and culture; gaining new insights from history, literature, and the arts; and nurturing thoughtful, ethical leaders…

…To move us forward, provost Maurie McInnis, and vice president for research Dan Jaffe, are creating a new interdisciplinary initiative for faculty and researchers to collaborate to solve great challenges. We are calling it Bridging Barriers. This interdisciplinary effort, driven by our faculty and research scientists, will tackle some of the hardest questions in the natural and human-made worlds and the world of ideas.

UT’s scholars will develop areas of study through proposals, in-depth interviews and small group discussions to generate ideas. To support Bridging Barriers and advance our research mission, we will make substantial investments by adding 50 new faculty positions over the next several years.”

President Gregory L. Fenves, State of the University, September 13, 2016
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Today, we are challenged to ask the hard questions and find the answers. Our response to this is Bridging Barriers.

Bridging Barriers is a faculty and researcher-driven process to identify the hard questions that will launch new research directions. These questions will produce the next generation of insights, breakthroughs and creations. These questions will:

  • Engage significant societal problems for the coming decades;
  • Address problems in basic research that can expand the human imagination and set the stage for the practical solutions to problems that don’t yet exist;
  • Address problems in humanities and social sciences, where answers will enrich and deepen our experience of the world and society around us.

This bottom-up process will be very open while being mindful of a few basic principles:

Any Bridging Barriers question must be non-generic. It must build on a problem that is unique to our context in geography and society; — Or it must exploit strengths or combinations of strengths that are unique to UT. The number and breadth of the questions must serve to focus our efforts.

Bridging Barriers will be a university-wide initiative, supported by the Vice President for Research, the Provost, and the Colleges, Schools, and Institutes. It will include faculty lines, support for new infrastructure, new funding, ongoing seed research funding, and help to secure significant extramural support.

Each year, for the coming 3 to 5 years, we will select a new Bridging Barriers question to begin its decade-long journey of investigation and discovery. The first initiative launches in the 2016-2017 academic year.

Concept papers are solicited from the UT Austin research community as a means to identify creative ideas that could mature into Bridging Barriers questions. Visit “Call for Concept Papers” page for details on submitting your ideas and plan to join us at the introductory Bridging Barriers Forum on Wednesday, October 5, 3:30-4:30 p.m.