Workshop #3: UCLA

Charting the future course of the academy

On January 31, 2020, we convened in Los Angeles for the third Beyond the Academy workshop hosted by the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability. This workshop was different than the past ones in that it focused on graduate students, and student attendees went through an application process to win an invitation. We ended up with a fantastic group of 24 students from 13 universities in the US, UK, and Canada. A small group of non-students (post-graduate researchers, faculty, and one administrator) were also in attendance to learn from the students and to continue conversations from the past two Beyond the Academy workshops.

Workshop activities included guided discussions, project development, sightseeing, improv training, and food. The students had opportunities to identify challenges they face as interdisciplinary scholars. The topics covered overlapped quite a bit with Beyond the Academy themes: incentives in academia, pressure to publish, challenges collaborating, translating across disciplines, and unclear career paths. When the focus turned to solutions, students broke into small groups and came up with excellent project ideas:

  1. Tools to facilitate communication and network building among graduate students, including a website, Slack channel, and zine!
  2. A series of interviews with interdisciplinary researchers to document their career paths and promote successful models of applied sustainability scholars. To be featured in the Beyond the Academy newsletter.
  3. A handbook for facilitating conversations among graduate student researchers within and across departments that can scale the type of conversations that were initiated at the workshop.
  4. A survey of graduate students designed to identify concrete examples of barriers to doing interdisciplinary work with the goal of publishing their findings in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
  5. An op-ed/commentary on the strengths of interdisciplinary scholars that will better characterize the unique skills that interdisciplinary students have to offer the world – inside and outside the academy.

To learn more about these student-led initiatives or to get involved, reach out to Christina at Check out the student-generated website SMOoThiE (Sustainability Mentorship and Organizing for Thinking on the Environment) to keep in touch with the student network – all are welcome to join this virtual community of interdisciplinary, applied scholars.

The Beyond the Academy steering committee is working on a suite of synthesis products based on the outcomes of the previous workshops. Stay tuned for a future blog post on the scope of these products and ways to contribute to next steps for the network.

It was inspiring to see the dedication and drive of the student participants. The academy will be a more diverse, inclusive, and impactful place because of their current and future leadership. Thanks to UCLA for hosting and for all attendees’ contributions and insights!

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