Inside UNSW spoke with Associate Professor Lyria Bennett Moses, the lead of our fourth Grand Challenge “Living with 21st Century Technology”, on her experience with the program.
Why did you apply to be a lead on a Grand Challenge?
I was drawn to the topic and had some ideas and suggestions, so wanted to be involved in some capacity. I went along to the selection meeting and was asked to lead it, which was a delightful surprise.
My initial reaction was “How am I going to fit it all in?” However, it proved to be a fantastic opportunity that aligned with my interests, passion and research.
How have you approached your Grand Challenge?
I set up a steering group with representatives from each faculty and some non-academic divisions such as IT, as well as a student voice.
I also met with people across the university to gather ideas and input. For the first six months it was all about the planning. It was important to take time to research, digest and organise key events.
Now that it has kicked off, there are events happening across the University where we have engaged a number of external partners and speakers. These started recently with UNSW hosting an event with microbiologist Francisco Mojica about his discovery of the gene editing tool CRISPR, ranked among the most important scientific findings of this century.
How has the experience impacted you personally and professionally?
There has been a large time commitment, but this was compensated by the excellent opportunity to engage with colleagues from right across the university. All l too often we sit in silos, so helping to generate interdisciplinary conversations with diverse people was highly worthwhile.
It starts a movement of collaboration across the university that goes way beyond the Grand Challenges. It gets us all thinking differently and stretching us to do important work outside our usual sphere.
I especially enjoyed the Data Justice Meet-up. This aligned with my own research on the impacts of “big data” approaches in the criminal justice system, providing additional breadth and depth to my thinking.
What has surprised you the most along the way?
That I’ve been able to do it! I imagined the Grand Challenges would be led by someone with experience in running important events. I’ve gained a whole new skillset.
Do you have a highlight?
I enjoyed learning about topics where I had no previous knowledge, such as Kevin Fox on how you measure GDP in a digital economy, in particular how you measure the economic output of a company like Facebook.
What has been your biggest learning, either in terms of the challenge subject matter itself…or about you / the community?
It reminded me that we are learning all the time and to push yourself into seeking new areas of knowledge.
What advice or recommendations do you have for anyone thinking of submitting an EOI to lead the Grand Challenge: Rapid Urbanisation?
Understand that Grand Challenges is different to a research project.
When you have a research project you have start with a research question that you set out to answer. However, there isn’t an answer to “living with 21st technology”; there isn’t an end-product, point or solution. We won’t answer a research question.
Rather Grand Challenges is about enabling conversations and creating events that get people thinking and learning beyond their normal spheres. That is how we begin to answer the big challenges of our time.
Have fun with it. Be creative and embrace the opportunity to explore the world outside your own research!
What’s next for you and your Grand Challenge and how people can find out more?
Anyone who has ideas about living with 21st century technology (after all, we all do it!), please get in touch. If you are running an event on a related topic, let us know; we can co-brand, promote or run a side event! Let’s take the conversation further.