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Social Connections and Health: Building a Community of Network Scholars

Social Connections and Health: Building a Community of Network Scholars

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Jim Moody, Director of DNACJim Moody, Director of the Duke Network Analysis Center, has been awarded an education grant by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). The grant will fund a research and training program for scholars investigating how our social networks affect our health and our health behaviors. With meetings hosted by the Social Science Research Institute (SSRI), individuals will be selected from across the nation to participate in the yearlong program. At the end of each year, program participants will share their projects with the next round of scholars who participate in the program.

“What the grant allows us to do is start building a community of scholars that can speak a common language about networks and health and bridge some of the holes that you get with [discipline-specific] training,” says Moody, emphasizing the importance of drawing interest from across different disciplines to form a robust network of scholars. He elaborates, “the reason you engage in these kind of collaborative processes […] is to get a chance to meet people you wouldn’t otherwise meet and to learn about projects you wouldn’t otherwise know about. My hope for this is that we end up five years down the road when this is all done with a community of many more scholars who are doing work on networks that is interesting and beyond any question I’ve thought about.”

While Moody describes the program as an investment in capacity building initially — foundational research which will form the core of the network’s efforts — he also envisions the potential impact of their work in the long term. And the health issues they will investigate have significant potential to impact daily life; the clearer our understanding of how social connections affect our health both directly and indirectly, the clearer we can use them to improve decision-making and care. “The idea is that we don’t think of [health and social networks] as two separate processes and that we start thinking about the way we can manipulate and use people’s social connections to help be more effective with the healthcare we provide them,” Moody says.

This push for an interdisciplinary approach to understanding health issues will also, Moody hopes, provide an opportunity for Medical Center researchers to network with their university colleagues. Faculty from across the Triangle’s universities have expressed interest in participating, and the social sciences departments at Duke have expressed interest as well.

SSRI will provide ongoing support for the program, having helped with the front-end of the grant. Moody credits the SSRI grants team with their help and hard work ensuring that the grant was submitted successfully. “SSRI provided us with all of the grant-writing support and the grant support team is truly fantastic,” he says. Looking forward, SSRI will continue to play a role in the execution of the grant, with Moody drawing on the SSRI infrastructure for resources like web support, data hosting, and virtual as well as traditional classrooms and meeting spaces. In his words “part of what made [the program] attractive to the NIH is this already well established and cutting edge research center with these kinds of common resources at SSRI that can help make this specific investment of NIH powerful.”

To learn more about social connections and network analysis, watch the short video below.

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