The excitement and promise of the new approaches to family research across the behavioral and biobehavioral sciences present new challenges to funding and training institutions. As an increasingly multidisciplinary field, family research requires funding and training mechanisms that extend across disciplinary boundaries. Students and researchers at all stages of their careers need opportunities to learn new and integrated sets of methods in family research and to work with colleagues in related fields. The needs of junior and senior researchers in this regard are different, but funding and training opportunities are necessary for both. Researchers need support for integrated and mixed-methods studies, such as quantitative-qualitative and biobehavioral family research.
This chapter summarizes the remarks by representatives of three federal agencies in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, each of whom described the agency’s interest in supporting additional family research. It also describes two brief presentations on multidisciplinary training opportunities and the comments of workshop participants on the challenges and potential of multidisciplinary work.
Combining disciplinary approaches requires innovative methodologies, institutional and funding support, and a sustained commitment to collaboration. An issue emphasized by Hirokazu Yoshikawa, professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was how disciplines learn and evolve. They do so, he said, in part by picking up and using new theories and methods from other disciplines. Under what conditions is this process most successful? Do disciplines pick new theories and meth-
ods selectively from adjacent disciplines and then adapt them to their own purposes, as when one language adopts words from another? Or are new theories and methods transferred intact among disciplines, in the same way that a person might become fluent in two languages? “This is very much a practical issue, because methods are the syntax in which scientific competence is evaluated,” Yoshikawa said. “Levels of monolingual and bilingual competence are associated with academic success in your career, so this is something we have to think about when we mix theories and methods across careers and not just studies.”
Institutions also shape the policies and practices of science. Institutional incentives shape the topics that are studied, the methods used to study those topics, and the pathways of careers. These incentives help create models of learning that are marked by particular milestones. For example, tenure is a developmental milestone for researchers that can influence the content and methods of research. From this perspective, one can think of interventions designed to increase the diversity of research, the extent to which it extends across disciplines, its use of technology, access and equity issues, and so on.
Access and equity are especially important considerations, Yoshikawa said. Multidisciplinary projects in family research are usually started by senior investigators. The question then becomes whether institutional policies increase or reduce inequality in access to learning opportunities across different methods. “Do the more connected simply become better connected?”
MULTIDISCIPLINARY FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES
The mission of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), said Cheryl Anne Boyce, is to lead the nation in bringing the power of science to bear on drug abuse and addiction. That charge has two critical components: strategic support and conduct of research across a broad range of disciplines and ensuring the rapid and effective dissemination and use of the results of that research to improve prevention, treatment, and policy as it relates to drug abuse and addiction.
To achieve this mission, NIDA funds a wide variety of researchers—doctoral, clinical, and master’s-level investigators—to “produce strong research evidence and answer the problems to improve the nation’s health.” When initially reviewing a proposal or project, Boyce tends not to know what discipline people are in, because the projects NIDA supports are problem focused.
Yet NIDA faces the problem of a relative lack of multidisciplinary research teams, she said. NIDA supports grants with multiple principal investigators, enabling the creation of such teams. But this mechanism is
used less than she expected. Particularly with family research, in which many disciplines are often involved, there is great potential through the use of multiple methods in research. There also are opportunities for the development of new technologies that draw on mixed methods, such as community-based participatory research using digital technologies. “We want the investigator to come up with the bright ideas,” Boyce observed.
Similarly, most of the training grants supported by NIDA are general rather than discipline specific. Various mechanisms exist for National Institutes of Health (NIH) training grants, including fellowships, mentored career awards, mid-career awards, and senior career awards. In addition, short-term training opportunities are available that are multidisciplinary and relevant to family research.
Qualitative research is an important part of NIDA’s research on substance use, Boyce said. But its value needs to be supported by showing how results can be obtained and enhanced through multiple methods. For example, a growing area of interest for NIDA is the families of veterans, and this area of research can draw on many disciplinary perspectives.
Wendy Nilsen discussed the status of multidisciplinary research through the perspective of the Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research (OBSSR) at NIH. The mission of the office is to stimulate behavioral and social science research throughout NIH and to integrate these areas more fully into the NIH health research enterprise, thereby improving the understanding, treatment, and prevention of disease. OBSSR is located in the Office of the Director, which has a central location across all of the 27 institutes and centers at NIH. “We at NIH want to improve the country’s health and expand our knowledge, and we need multiple methods to do this.”
Family research can be found throughout NIH. For example, the National Human Genome Research Institute has emphasized the importance of obtaining family health histories as part of the biomedical information collected in medical interviews. Much of the family research supported by NIH requires the involvement of multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary teams, said Nilsen. “Complex questions take complex methods,” she said. Researchers need to be local advocates to support this work and develop research projects to take advantage of these mechanisms.
Prevention, a special focus of OBSSR, involves a very broad range of biological and social factors. For example, 40 percent of premature deaths are related to behavioral and social factors (Schroeder, 2007), and many causes of health disparities have their roots in social and environmental factors (Wong et al., 2002). Working on these kinds of issues, said Nilsen, requires teams with a history of commitment to collaboration, institutional support, and strong leadership.
She also briefly discussed the Basic Behavioral and Social Science Opportunity Network or OppNet, which is a trans-NIH initiative to support the development of basic behavioral and social science research at NIH.
Susan Jekielek described the functions of the Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE) at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which is responsible for federal programs that promote the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals, and communities. Examples of programs and services administered by ACF include adoption and foster care, child abuse and neglect, the child care subsidy program, the Head Start program, strengthening families and responsible fatherhood, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and refugee resettlement. OPRE is the principal advisor to the assistant secretary for ACF. It provides guidance, analysis, technical assistance, and oversight to ACF programs on strategic planning aimed at measurable results; performance measurement; research and evaluation methodologies; model development and demonstration testing; statistical, policy, and program analysis; and dissemination of research findings.
Though few OPRE grants involve training, they do support an effort to train researchers in policy-related work. The office supports dissertation grants for child care and Head Start researchers, along with workshops and meetings intended to advance and disseminate research methods.
Requests for proposals from OPRE would be unlikely to focus specifically on multiple methods. But the research being requested by its nature requires a variety of methods, including mixed qualitative and quantitative research; in fact, almost every session at the IOM workshop included research funded by OPRE. Mixed methods are particularly important in understanding diverse populations and the use of services by low-income families, Jekielek said.
An example of such work is the research conducted under the healthy marriage grant program, which has examined relationships among low-income couples. Prior to this program, most of the measures in this area were developed for middle-class couples. The program has advanced research in this area by supporting cognitive interviewing focus groups and survey testing to design family interaction measures that are appropriate for lower income families. The project also plans to archive observational data for future use.
Another example is OPRE’s support for child care policy grants. Legislation specifies that parents should be able to get quality child care that fits their needs when they work. Research supported by the office has drawn on a variety of data sources, including administrative data, survey data, and qualitative interviews, to investigate this issue.
A particular challenge in this work, said Jekielek, is the diversity of
immigrant families who speak different languages, which complicates the process of conducting interviews and surveys. Different groups also can describe and think about families in different ways, which can pose challenges for researchers conducting interviews about child care.
OPRE plans to emphasize research on early childhood in the future. Legislation currently being considered proposes to focus on fatherhood, families and marriage, and this may be an indication of more research in this area to come. Home visiting programs are another focus of interest and may present opportunities for collaboration with researchers from the health and medical fields.
Finally, Jeffery Evans from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) discussed funding opportunities there as well as the National Institute on Aging (NIA) and National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR). NICHD research covers a wide range of family-related issues, from demographics to mother-child interactions to families in rehabilitation. “NIA thinks that aging begins at birth, and we think that development stops at death, and families are there all along.”
These agencies continue to fund traditional research projects with principal investigators. But “the wind is blowing in the direction of big science, and the rules are different in big science,” said Evans. Investigators need to collaborate with other specialists and build projects that no one working alone could build. “It’s a clear trend, and that’s where the translational and policy impact of our science is felt.” The Three City Study (see Chapter 3) is a good example. The motivating question was what would happen to children under welfare reform. The study combined a variety of disciplinary perspectives, and the first paper to emerge from the study, on the behavioral changes accompanying welfare reform, had an influence on Congress. “It helped answer a big public policy need of the day.”
In the future, Evans said, a major concern will be decision-making processes in families. In some ways, families can be like a bank: they divert resources, money, help, information, and motivation to particular investments, including children. Government policy has to accommodate these decisions if it is going to be effective. “Figuring out who makes the decisions, how those decisions are made, and . . . how government policy includes them—that’s going to be where a lot of the action is.”
An important emphasis in the biological sciences will be epigenetics—the chemical and structural alterations in DNA that affect its functioning. “We’re all epigeneticists, and I think there’s an enormous opportunity for us to contribute in that direction, and if you’re not training your students to be able to do it, you’ve trained them right into oblivion.”
A TOOLBOX FOR FAMILY RESEARCH
Nathan Fox, professor of human development and director of the Child Development Laboratory at the University of Maryland, described a particular multidisciplinary project that has special relevance to family research. Under a cross-institute initiative, a group based at Northwestern University has been developing a set of measures, known as the NIH Toolbox, that can be used to assess individuals across four domains: cognition, social and emotional functioning, motor functioning, and sensory functioning. The tools have been designed to be used across the life span, have been validated against “gold standards” in the different fields of research, are being normed for both English- and Spanish-speaking populations ages 3 to 85, and are freely available for anyone who wants to use them. “As you can imagine, it was a huge undertaking,” said Fox.
Teams were established for each of the different domains. In each domain, subdomains were identified, and the subdomains were divided into tasks. In the domain of cognition, for example, the subdomains included executive function, episodic memory, processing speed, language, working memory, and attention. In the domain of social and emotional functioning, the subdomains were negative affect, positive affect, stress and self-efficacy, and social relationships. While someone might use the tools for clinical populations or for populations at risk, the idea was to norm the measures on typical populations for each subdomain across age groups.
A major point of discussion has been whether one could identify subdomains and tasks that could be assessed across development. The cognition team answered that question in the affirmative, said Fox. “They felt that you could measure memory processing speed, executive function, language, starting at age three and going all the way up to eighty-five.” For many of the subdomains, the motor team and the sensory teams also answered that question in the affirmative. The socioemotional domain had some subdomains that were not amenable to work effectively across age assessments. The social and emotional teams also had to rely on questionnaires to gather information rather than having direct measures of a task or subdomain. For children, a caregiver has to fill out questionnaire items for those younger than age 10; starting at age 10, it was felt that children could report on each of the subdomains themselves.
The validation phase of the NIH Toolbox is currently ending. In fall 2010, with approval from the Office of Management and Budget, the measures will be normed in each of these domains with a representative national sample in both Spanish and English. Within a year, said Fox, this set of tools will be available, individually or in combination, to researchers from the NIH website.
The use of these particular measures in family research will need to be
investigated, he said. For example, the toolbox has a set of demographic questionnaires that may be useful in characterizing households and the marital or cohabitation status of couples. According to Fox, the toolbox is a measure of individual competence across a wide range of domains and can be a useful adjunct in family research.
Andrew Fuligni, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, identified seven features of successful multidisciplinary training programs. First, they are problem focused. Successful programs have identified very specific problems or, in the case of longer training programs, several linked problems that can be investigated. “If you stick to those problems, then it’s much easier to be interdisciplinary, because the methods you choose depend on the problem to solve. . . . You get people to identify with the problem rather than with the method.”
Successful programs also have explicit requirements and incentives that promote the use of multiple methods. Some require students to have mentors in two or more disciplines. Others require dissertation committees made up of people from different disciplines or an internship year in the laboratory of someone who is outside a person’s department. “These can be tricky, but they have been successful when they’re explicit.”
Successful training programs are multigenerational, with the old teaching the young and the young teaching the old. If faculty members have to be involved with interdisciplinary training, new ideas filter up to them, “and that’s when you have a quicker impact on the field and shaping what’s going on.”
Successful programs are sustainable. Small seed grants can enable a few people in one department to initiate a much larger multidepartment effort. Another possibility is to encourage a journal to devote a special section to a multidisciplinary topic or sponsor such a gathering at a scientific meeting.
Successful programs are challenging for participants and do not shy away from what appear to be “dumb questions.” People working outside their own fields sometimes have to ask such questions. This can be an uncomfortable situation, but if someone wants to question methods or a way of thinking, he or she has to be willing to discuss the issue. People should not harangue each other, because training cannot be productive in such a climate. But people have to be able and willing to ask questions.
To be successful, programs need collaborative and creative personalities. People can be self-selected, but, if so, the program needs to be explicit about who should become involved.
Finally, students need to remain connected to their core disciplines. “Many of our students still have to operate within the traditional academic department structure. There are many students, and we all know them, who end up being very creative, very multidisciplinary, but sociology doesn’t call them a sociologist, or psychology won’t call them a psychologist, and so on down the line. It can be very difficult for them to get a job, so they can end up many times . . . with positions that aren’t really full-money positions, or they’re not core in one department. That will create attrition at a high rate from those kinds of creative people.” Researchers can be multidisciplinary, but they still need to know how to talk with people in a core department, and also how to review proposals and papers in their discipline.
Sally Powers, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, made several similar points in discussing local barriers to faculty using integrated methods. Learning and using mixed methods in interdisciplinary research is costly in terms of ego and time, she noted. People are trying to do things they were not trained to do, and collaborative work takes time. Also, institutional infrastructure is typically not set up to support interdisciplinary work. The question then becomes how to change the infrastructure at the university and departmental levels so that faculty can collaborate and learn new methods.
Powers identified four things that are needed to make such a change. The first is release time to engage in learning translational and collaborative skills. And this often has to happen before a faculty member receives funding to buy that release time from an institution.
An institution also needs a risk-taking climate to allow experts in one field to become learners in another. This is different from a safe climate in which no risks are taken. Powers said, “At the beginning of an interdisciplinary seminar, we pass out large white flags, and those white flags symbolize, ‘I give up. I cannot understand your language. I don’t know what you’re talking about. Please help me.’”
Concrete goals are needed to help overcome the slow pace of learning to translate and collaborate. Even a small grant can keep people focused on concrete goals so that they do not feel that they are wasting their time.
Finally, faculty members and institutions need a conviction that science will progress faster with mixed methods. Administrators, chairs, center directors, vice chancellors of research, and others all need to be convinced that collaborative research will pay off in the long run. To make these arguments requires conviction and work.
The impetus to make these changes does not come just from institutions or department chairs, said Powers. It comes from the faculty members who are doing the work. Center directors, chairs, and deans may be looking for ways to support interdisciplinary research, but they will not
necessarily take the time to figure out what will make a program work. Faculty members need to go to them and say, “Here’s what I really need, and here are some suggestions for how it might work.”
Powers listed three things that faculty members can do or suggest to others. One is to team teach across disciplines or across methods. Even in a single department, the qualitative can be combined with the quantitative or the behavioral with the biological. “Pick out someone that you get along with well, that you don’t mind spending a lot of time with, and convince your chair that team teaching is going to be incredibly important for your students.” Faculty members and students can learn a tremendous amount about other departments and disciplines through such arrangements.
Second, interdisciplinary grant-writing programs can bring faculty members together to learn about and collaborate on multidisciplinary research. At the Center for Research on Families at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, the Family Research Scholars Program brings six faculty members together for a year in an interdisciplinary seminar. Each of them applies to be part of the program, and each of them writes a research grant focused on some type of family research. They read each other’s grants, give peer support, and receive other supports to develop their ability to talk across disciplines.
Also, multidisciplinary initiatives need to involve all levels of faculty, not just assistant professors. Full professors, mid-level professors, and assistant professors all benefit from multidisciplinary exchanges.
Short training courses on mixed-method approaches can be extremely valuable. Deans and chairs should be convinced that funding to attend these short courses will pay off with larger grant funding in the future.1
Faculty members pursuing interdisciplinary funding need to make the case that these are new grants that would not have been obtained without support from the institution. “We’ve been successful with that,” Power said. “The money comes back and supports course releases for the next class of faculty that are going to do this, and thus far we’ve had more than enough to support that.”
The bottom line, said Powers, is “to advocate at your local level, because it is changes in your daily life that are going to make this workable.”
During the discussion period, Jane Guyer emphasized the importance of planning grants in the formation of multidisciplinary projects. Putting together such projects can be labor-intensive and difficult, and planning grants could overcome some of those difficulties.
Jeffery Evans observed that NIH does provide planning grants for that purpose. Another way to support early-stage projects is through conferences and workshops. For example, with the establishment of clinical networks, a planning phase is built into the project. “The larger the enterprise, the more planning you need.” Planning grants and related funding also can be used to conduct short-term training to familiarize team members with a new method. In addition, supplemental grants to an existing grant can be used to add a new method to an existing study.
A workshop participant described the difficulties in shortening a paper about a complex multimethods research project to meet the space limitations of a prominent journal. Roger Bakeman observed that journals are unlikely to devote huge amounts of space to multimethod studies, but supplemental and supporting materials that are not published can be posted on the Internet. That way, people can examine the data from which conclusions are drawn and ask their own questions of the data and the analysis.
In response to a question about whether the NIH Toolbox will have instruments that can be used with young children in culturally diverse settings, Nathan Fox noted that standardized, normed, valid measures will not be available for social and emotional development. “It’s a big hole in the armamentarium of assessment of young children. . . . It’s not an impossible task. It just requires someone to do the hard work, to create that battery of measures.” Nor are there any direct measures of parenting, Fox continued, although there are measures of social support and relationships embedded in parent questionnaires.
Bakeman observed that the way of doing science embodied in the NIH Toolbox is desirable, but it goes against the scientific culture in some ways. Science still values individual rather than group contributions. “Many of us are not full-time researchers. We’re beholden to departments that expect us to advance, be promoted, sit on committees, teach, do all kinds of other research, including these elaborate consortium arrangements which are incredibly time-consuming.” Forums are needed that will encourage and reward the interdisciplinary collegial work, which is all too rare. Common tools will help, in that they will bridge disciplines. For family science to be cumulative, measures need to apply across many different laboratories in a given area of research. “We need measures that are accepted widely and used in the field.”
Funding agencies could insist that researchers choose from a list
of approved tools, but many researchers would be leery of that kind of centralized control, Bakeman said. For tools to be used and work across settings, funding needs to support consortia in which such tools are employed. “We need to educate our universities and our deans that this is the right way to go . . . in a culture that largely only understands first-authored papers.”
How can undergraduates, graduate students, and postdoctoral fellows be trained to move between disciplines as well as to become familiar with the language of disciplines as varied as sociology, demography, neuroscience, and developmental psychology? “This is really very difficult,” said Fox, “and it’s most difficult because graduate students or post-docs still have to go out and become assistant professors, and they still have to establish themselves in their departments, generally, with their own research and with their own laboratory. Multidisciplinary collaboration, which is really the way to train students and to get them involved in these kinds of multidisciplinary collaborations, often is frowned upon, interestingly enough, by departments, for individuals who are just starting out. It’s sort of the luxury of those who already have tenure. That culture has to change if, in fact, we are going to be training that next generation of students.”
In putting together a diverse campus, college administrators choose a diverse range of students, said Bakeman. Perhaps family research needs to do the same thing by convening people with different skills and areas of expertise. In that case, an important component of multimethods work is a culture of mutual respect. “We need to have students who are not themselves mixed-method competent but are mixed-method literate and respectful. I’m not sure how to do that—in graduate school we too often go for that narrow specialization. . . . Again, we need a culture change.”
Bakeman pointed out that relatively few people use observational methods, often because they think such methods are too expensive and time-consuming. But modern visual technologies are changing that. Observations are more accessible to a wider range of people through the use of digital technologies. If common measures used in multiple independent investigations and laboratories were available, data—including video—could be archived and find many future uses. Data storage is cheap, although issues of consent need additional consideration. With major data archives, multiple methods could be brought to bear on the same data. “We need to create a culture where more work goes into collecting archives, more dissertations are earned, and more promotions are gained from working with large archival data sets. With multiple minds looking at similar phenomena that may be the real payoff of mixed methods.”
Barbara Fiese pointed out that the use of archived videotapes requires
close cooperation with institutional review boards to make sure that future uses meet the terms of the original consent. She also observed that the formation of complex multidisciplinary teams in family research provides an opportunity to develop a science of team research. Researchers could look at how people interact on teams, how they train others, and the effects team participation has on a person’s career trajectory. Such studies could help inform people make career decisions and could play a role in tenure reviews.