The University of Alabama at Birmingham prides itself on a culture of cross-disciplinary collaboration, which could be why the university rocketed from 47th place in our 2007 survey to 5th place this year. An embodiment of UAB's cooperative spirit can be seen in the university's new Richard C. and Annette N. Shelby Interdisciplinary Biomedical Research Building, which opened in 2006. Since then immunologists, neurobiologists, and others have been setting up shop in its labs and offices.
The Shelby Building, however, is just the latest addition to a healthy tradition of collaboration at the school. UAB maintains 17 university-wide research centers that are based on cross-departmental relationships and interdisciplinary study. Designed to be collaborative, each must involve at least three schools within the university, says Robert Rich, senior vice president for medicine and dean of UAB's School of Medicine. The signature research hub is the Center for Aging, which pulls together researchers from 11 of UAB's twelve schools to conduct research ranging from the biology of getting older to the economic and social impact of aging.
Rich adds that UAB's focus on collaboration hasn't come about overnight, but says it is increasing UAB's capacity to accommodate cutting edge research, such as last year when UAB researchers claimed to be the first to use induced pluripotent stem cells to cure sickle cell anemia in mice.
All of this collaboration, according to Rich, encourages social relationships among UAB's faculty. For example, Rich says that there is a large group of UAB researchers who go on weekly bicycle rides after work. "Faculty members develop these relationships in a very natural way," he says. "It makes it fun to be a graduate student, a postdoc, or a faculty member where you're not insular, but where you establish relationships very broadly."