Western News – Making Connections: Western Complexity Sciences Research Center

James Shelley remembers it all started where many great ideas were born – over a pint at the Grad Club.

The popular effort which is now Western’s Complex adaptive systems lab arose out of early informal discussions between interested faculty members.

Intriguing connections began to emerge as Shelley chatted with Sayra Cristancho from the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry, Jonathan De Sousa of the Faculty of Music and Paul Tremblay from the Department of Psychology.

Cristancho used complexity theory to examine adaptive team performance in the context of primary care and surgery; DeSousa used a complexity lens to reflect on how orchestral performance occurs through complex interactions between performers; and Tremblay was studying team psychology.

“It was just fascinating,” said Shelley. “Neither of them knew the other worked as a team this way. It left me wondering what would happen if they could compare the notes? I think we all knew that if we organized ourselves, some really meaningful and innovative research questions could emerge. “

James Shelley, director of the CAS Lab

Shelley, Knowledge Mobilization Coordinator in the Faculty of Health Sciences, synthesized these early ideas from the Grad Club into a vision for an interfaculty network for complexity sciences in July 2019. He has always led the laboratory of the AQHI from his office. since.

Complex adaptive systems are all around us – our circle of friends, the cells of our body, near streams and forests. Each is made up of interacting pieces that affect each other and together create something different from the sum of their parts.

The goal of the theory of complex adaptive systems is to observe, understand and model how these systems form, interact and evolve.

“The CAS lab provides a natural connection point and opens the door to compelling inter-faculty research collaborations,” said Shelley. “It helps us build on our existing strengths. “

Today more than 90 faculty members joined the CAS laboratory. Shelley attributes her success to the support and collaboration of Western Research and the practical help of undergraduates.

“None of this could have happened without the support of the students,” he said. “The work to identify researchers from all disciplines at Western who are interested in or use complex adaptive systems in their research has taken over a year. “

Beginning in the 2019-2020 academic year, health science internship students have mapped faculty interest and expertise in complex adaptive systems across the West. Community learning students conducted research and literary critiques while participants in the Scholar’s Choice program developed a map of actors of the CAS laboratory ecosystem to identify areas of shared interest among faculty members.

Interactive map showing the research links between Western faculty members in the CAS lab.

Emma Fabrice

Health Sciences Student Emma Fabri

During the last term, Emma Fabri and her peers at the School of Health Studies, Siobhan Bruce and Ameera Kanjee, developed a series of introductory modules in OWL for students interested in learning more about CAS.

“Learning complex adaptive systems was the piece of the puzzle I needed to connect the ideas of each course I took during my undergrad,” Fabri said. “It allowed me to take a step back and see the big picture. “

Fabri’s experience gave her concrete examples to use in job interviews and graduate studies, and a strong opinion on the value of teaching CAS at all levels in all courses.

“CAS appears to be taught at the graduate level for research purposes, but I think we should introduce it earlier to help students at all levels define their issues, whether in their own lives or for their studies, ”she said. “This would provide them with an important toolkit for thinking critically from an interdisciplinary perspective, and because of this, every student should be exposed to CAS in their academic career and apply it to their field of study. “

Fabri will be doing his presentation next Monday alongside other students and faculty researchers, sharing virtual updates on their lab work in five- to 10-minute presentations called Flash talks.

While the first round of faculty interest mapping was important, Shelley hopes to identify other faculty and students interested in joining the group.

“Systems are everywhere, and often what we learn about one system can shape the questions and research we undertake on another system,” said Shelley. “We want to foster many new connections between otherwise disparate disciplines. “

Learn more

Anyone interested in learning more about complexity research at Western is invited to CAS Lab Lightning Talks (winter session 2021), a virtual live event on Monday, March 22, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. Professors and students in the lab will share updates on various CAS research projects and initiatives.

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