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National Institute for Theory & Mathematics in Biology Evaluation

Group of business professionals in a dark meeting room, standing in front of a large screen with scientific displays of DNA and cells being presented.
Assessing the impact of the first national center devoted to bridging mathematics and biology
  • Client
    National Science Foundation
  • Dates
    2023 - 2028

Problem

An independent evaluator was needed for an innovative effort to integrate mathematics and biology, with the goal of fueling new research.

Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Simons Foundation, the National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology (NITMB) is a 5-year, $50 million research partnership between Northwestern University and the University of Chicago. The NITMB aims to integrate the disciplines of mathematics and biology in order to transform the practice of biological research and to inspire new mathematical discoveries. The institute needed an independent, external evaluator to lead a summative evaluation of the Institute’s work in transforming the effectiveness of mathematics in life sciences, catalyzing the growth of theoretical biology, and seeding new interdisciplinary research collaborations nationwide. 

Solution

NORC is using a range of quantitative metrics to evaluate NITMB’s research and societal impacts. 

NORC’s summative evaluation is mapped to the Institute’s multifaceted approach to changing the landscape of research at the interface of mathematics and biology. Such changes will be assessed quantitatively by looking for changes in participants’ research orientations, collaboration patterns, and academic outputs. Methods for tracking these changes include: 

  • Survey measures developed by the field of team science to assess attitudes and orientations towards conducting interdisciplinary research and then measure changes over time 
  • Social network analysis to capture evolving research team structures and relationships, including changes in the disciplinary and demographic structure of key research partnerships 
  • Bibliometrics and altmetrics to understand the Institute’s reach inside and outside the academy and to understand long-term changes in collaboration patterns 
  • Computational linguistics to surface the emergence of new disciplines by assessing the Institute’s impacts on the “conversation” between mathematicians and biologists nationwide 

The Program Evaluation Core (PEC) at Northwestern University is leading the formative evaluation of Institute activities, including efforts to broaden the participation of underrepresented groups. Both formative and summative evaluation data will be shared with the NITMB Evaluation Committee to ensure that they are reviewed by leadership and used to improve Institute programs and processes. 

Result

Evaluation results will inform further efforts to integrate the disciplines of mathematics and biology.

Results of the summative evaluation will document the impact of the NITMB on the diverse research collaborations and broad researcher mindsets that are foundational to developing the new theories, data-informed mathematical models, and computational tools needed to uncover the biological “rules of life” and their potential applications. 

Learn More About the Project

For more information about the National Institute for Theory and Mathematics in Biology:

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