Posted on: 20/05/2021

Meet the Team: Barry Smith, Interdisciplinarity

Since 2013, I have been the Leadership Fellow for the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Science in Culture Theme, where I have been helping to foster meaningful collaborations across the arts, humanities and sciences. The range and ingenuity of projects we funded have shown just how much scope there is for genuine interactions between researchers in the sciences, medicine and engineering and those in the arts and the humanities. I am passionate about significant interdisciplinary research, which in my own work on perception led me to launch a Centre for the Study of the Senses at the Institute of Philosophy in the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. The Centre has pioneered interactions between philosophers, psychologists and neuroscientists and we have two working labs. My own research is on the multisensory nature of perception, focusing on taste, smell and flavour. I publish both theoretical and experimental papers, work with artists and chefs and at times consult for the food and drinks industry.

It is through my role with the AHRC’s Science in Culture Theme that I first met many of my colleagues in the FLF Development Network, when they invited me to be part of Welsh Crucible events. I was struck by the energy and intellectual force of the hand-picked early career fellows attending those events. I could see how well they understood the challenges they faced and how willing they were to equip themselves to meet those challenges. It was also a pleasure to be involved, helping researchers position themselves best to make a difference not only in their own work, but in their commitment to collaborations and in communicating the interest and value of their research to wider audiences. When I was asked to join the Development Network, to work closely with the UKRI Future Leader Fellows, I accepted at once. Together with the FLF+s, this is a wonderful opportunity to contribute to the important changes to the nature of research and research culture in the new future.

An increasing emphasis is being put on the need to communicate our research to a number of publics: to Government, policy makers, patient groups, and the wider public. It is important to build support for university funded research working with those outside the academy in industry and other sectors, and I am equally passionate about the opportunities for the public to participate in our research and to hear about it. As an ex-colleague, philosopher, Jo Wolff, previously a Dean at UCL and now at Oxford, once put it to me: What’s the point of doing all this research if nobody benefits from it? We need better ways to share what we do with the public and to encourage different audiences to engage with us. As part of that mission, I was the founding Director of the Being Human Festival, the UK’s only national festival for the humanities. In encouraging researchers right across the UK to participate, I asked only that they found new and innovative ways to showcase their research and made sure that what they put on was accessible and relevant to people’s lives. The Being Human Festival is in its fifth year now with my successor as director, my colleague at SAS, Professor Sarah Churchwell. In the course of the three years of the FLF Development Network, I hope to meet many of you and look forward to hearing your ideas of how to engage the public with your research. Lots to do and I am looking forward to working with you all.

Prof Barry C Smith

Director, Institute of Philosophy
Centre for the Study of the Senses

AHRC Leadership Fellow for the Science in Culture Theme

School of Advanced Study

University of London

Share this post: