To ferret out the promising ideas that make up this year’s Next Big Thing issue, UBC News has turned to our community’s researchers. Their delight of discovery and boundless curiosity make them uniquely positioned to spot the real game changers.
Our faculty guest editors David Ng and Paul Cubbon were the ones who were eager to crowdsource candidates for the Next Big Thing stories, coming up with an online platform that attracted more than 70 submissions from UBC researchers about what is making waves in their world.
Paul Cubbon and David Ng helped us select the first 10 stories to be unveiled over the next few weeks and they are challenging us to engage more researchers, and find novel ways to tell their stories. Welcome aboard, David and Paul. The Next Big Thing adventure has barely begun.
From the guest editors
David Ng, Michael Smith Laboratories, @Ng_Dave
Dave Ng is a geneticist, writer and science literacy academic. He runs a laboratory at the Michael Smith Labs with a particular interest in exploring the intersection between science and creativity.
One of my earliest memories as a child was the time when someone asked me what I was going to be when I grow up. My answer was immediate and confident: “I’m going to be Spider-Man,” I proclaimed. Fast forward a couple of decades and here I am, no proportional strength and speed of a spider, but otherwise happy as a scientific literacy academic. The point of this is to emphasize a common truth: predicting the future is difficult.
Arguably, this is even more so when applied to academics, and hence the challenge of navigating the material in this “Next Big Thing” package. If you think about it, it’s a tricky proposition. How would one second guess its bigness, symbolic or otherwise? Must it even be a thing? As you can imagine, the mechanics of the process tended to bias itself towards applicable things – you might even say obvious things.
Still, it was a lot of fun–the camaraderie with co-editors and the production team was excellent, and more importantly, it further opened my eyes to the breadth of fascinating endeavours out there within the confines of UBC research.
This last bit, I feel, is worth expanding upon: both the sentiment and the possibility of reworking of this project for future years. Let’s change the experimental conditions, reset the parameters a little and alter the lingo so that we can better entice more submissions from more varied topics, all with an aim to better capture the breadth of our passion for research and discovery. We should bluntly just call it, “Research that is awesome.” Now wouldn’t that be lovely?
Paul Cubbon, Sauder School of Business, @paulcubbon
Paul Cubbon is an experimental and innovative educator. His interests are in: 1) enhanced learning experience design; 2) social media and its evolving role in consumer decision-making; 3) innovation and entrepreneurship, in particular lean approaches to customer discovery and business model design.
I am fortunate in my work to interact with colleagues across many areas of the university beyond my own faculty. Invariably, in such interactions, I hear about fascinating and significant work that appears to be little known outside of the specialists in that area.
We can sometimes take it for granted to simply state that UBC is a leading world-class research university without really stopping to reflect on what this means. Invariably, both in professional and social circles, I found people surprised to hear about the richness, volume and practical importance of research happening at UBC.
It is in this context that I was particularly excited to be asked to be involved with UBC Public Affairs in a pilot test to expand “The Next Big Thing” using a crowd source style approach. This year, in a very short period, more than 70 submissions were received. I am excited about the prospects of building on this in 2014, with the hope of involving all faculties, and generating hundreds of submissions.
It is clear that “The Next Big Thing” is a powerful idea that means different things to different people, depending on context and time horizon. Incorporating different categories or judging criteria, and possibly involving a crowd-voting component, are all intriguing possibilities to take this forward. For this pilot year, incorporating multiple related research initiatives alongside a lead write-up on one specific research area, has been a start to sharing the variety and volume of UBC’s research activity and impact with a broad public audience. Telling a complex, specialist story in a simple and short-way to engage general readers can be challenging. But this is a worthwhile aim in shining a brighter light and gaining a fuller appreciation for the collective work of the UBC research community.