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The Latest at SSRI

The Latest at SSRI

Friday, December 9, 2016

SSRI Director Tom NechybaQ: What educational resources are available at SSRI this year? 

A: Our educational resources really come as a package of connecting pieces. We have a help desk, the Connection Bar in Gross Hall, that provides on-demand research support to hundreds of students and faculty 40 hours a week. This is backed up by a growing online infrastructure that is open to anyone anytime. Then we have in-depth bootcamps that dive deep into particular methods or software packages. All this is supported by a vibrant staff, graduate and post-doc community in SSRI, an interdisciplinary group that works on its own research goals while also assisting others with expertise. And SSRI manages the Education and Human Development theme of Bass Connections where we try to bring these general educational offerings to bear on making team-based science work—both within the theme and across other teams in the university. Through our experience with Bass, we have also learned how the same resources that support our Duke community can become critical catalysts for launching community partnerships that benefit from research. 


Q: What’s ModU and who might find it useful?

A: ModU is a new initiative that is part of our online presence to support interdisciplinary, team-based science. It is still in its beta phase, but the idea is to provide modular paths for student and faculty researchers to understand the essence of different approaches to social science. Matt Masten, a faculty member in economics and an expert in causal inference, has so far produced over 100 short modules that provide conceptually deep but technically accessible ways for researchers across disciplines to engage with some of the most difficult questions social science wrestles with. We are expanding into other topics, and all the modules are discoverable on YouTube which then points you to our ModU interface to see the connections between the modules. The surprise so far has been how much external interest there seems to be. We are being approached by big companies to enter partnerships to deepen what we offer. 


Q: EHD Bass Connections has grown to include even more project teams this year. What do you envision for the theme’s future?

A: These project teams are the core of Bass Connections, and we have learned a lot about what makes them successful. I think there are two next steps for the theme: First, we want to continue to work on leveraging SSRI’s educational infrastructure to support these teams, and in the process learn more about how we can become increasingly effective at supporting interdisciplinary, team-based projects. Second, we are exploring creative new ways of providing EHD-focused educational pathways, leveraging the ModU infrastructure to provide support for students and faculty to explore areas of EHD that strengthen Bass teams from their start.


Q: Podcasts, like NPR’s Hidden Brain and Brian Southwell’s The Measure of Everyday Life, are bringing social science issues into the mainstream. How can Duke students participate in this movement?

A: Brian’s show is really terrific, and right in the sweet spot of where SSRI sits. It aims to not just talk about social science research but also to expose the public to the challenges such research faces and the ways we overcome these challenges. So I am thrilled about a growing partnership we have started with Brian and with his WNCU program. We are supporting a new class Brian is teaching this year, a class where students learn to talk about social science in the way that he does on his show, and we are collaborating on featuring Duke social science on the show. I think we’ll see students producing short pieces that may well end up on the show, and I hope all sorts of new ways of bringing social science insights to the public will emerge. 


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Durham, NC 27708


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Durham, NC 27705

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