In September 2018, UT Austin’s Office of the Vice President for Research partnered with the School of Design and Creative Technologies Extension to imagine a first-of-its-kind, invitation-only retreat called Associate Professor Experimental (APX) to inspire faculty members to put down their phones, turn off their email, and get to know their peers’ research expertise. The goal was to create a space where faculty members from different scholarly backgrounds could come together to solve interesting problems in new ways. To everyone’s surprise, it worked even better than they had hoped.
“We looked at each other, and I wondered, what should we do? I wasn’t really interested in any other type of research, and I think neither were you.”
Salvatore Salamone, a civil engineer, is sitting with neuroscientist Michael Drew. He’s remembering back to a three-day retreat called APX they both attended last fall. APX stands for Associate Professor Experimental, and its aim is to bring newly tenured faculty members together to meet one another, learn about every one’s work and interests, then break off into pairs or small groups to come up with unique research proposals. The best ideas would be funded on the spot by the Office of the Vice President for Research, but there was a catch: You couldn’t partner with someone from your own academic department.
On the final day, however, Salamone and Drew realized that everyone had a team except them. Groups were already well into proposal-writing mode by that point, so the two lone professors made the only obvious choice.
“We said, let’s go play tennis,” laughs Salamone. But it had started raining; not tennis weather.
Without many options left, they decided to sit down and talk, but neither was optimistic. Even after two hours of brainstorming, they hadn’t made much progress. That’s when Salamone pulled up a video, and Drew says it was their aha moment.