Reimagining Asia-focused research

Since arriving at the University in January 2013, Netina Tan has devoted much of her considerable energy to re-imagining Asia-focused research and education at McMaster.

Tan, an assistant professor in the department of Political Science, has been spearheading the development of the Asia Research Working Group,an interdisciplinary community of scholars focused on engaging faculty and students around Asia research.

“My own research interests are in East and Southeast Asia,” says Tan.  “When I first came to Mac, I wanted to connect with other Asia scholars to talk about social and economic issues and current affairs, but there was no existing network. I wanted to find out who was working on what and build a community.”

Netina Tan is the driving force behind the Asia Research Working Group.

Netina Tan is the driving force behind the Asia Research Working Group.

Tan started by searching the McMaster directory, looking for people she thought might be working on research involving Asia. She compiled a list and began emailing other scholars, inviting them for coffee to discuss their research interests.

From there, Tan and a number of faculty members formed the working group and have since been working toward building McMaster’s capacity for interdisciplinary Asia research and looking for ways to integrate research opportunities into educational activities across all Faculties.

“The kinds of problems that we face in the world are transnational. A lot of issues require more than one disciplinary perspective to move beyond our own fixed or narrow views. Interdisciplinarity helps to generate ideas and bring people together to solve problems and I think that is required given the kind of world we live in right now.”

Tan and the Asia working group core group members began looking into the possibility of establishing an Asia institute at McMaster and received a Forward with Integrity grant, as well as funding through the Faculties of Social Sciences and Humanities, to organize an interdisciplinary conference to explore the idea.

The conference was held this spring and featured a roundtable made up of directors from Asia institutes across Canada. The event included six research panels focused on emerging challenges and themes in Asia. The conference also explored ways to build partnerships with institutions outside of McMaster and to provide meaningful international research opportunities for students.

“One of our key aims is not just to bring Mac to Asia; we want to bring Asia to Mac. We need to expose our students to opportunities in Asia. We want to let students know about grants, scholarships, internships and research opportunities so they can experience Asia. It’s part of the process of becoming more globally-minded.”

McMaster President Patrick Deane says this kind of initiative is critical to fostering an internationalized environment at McMaster.

“Engaging in an interdisciplinary dialogue around Asia or any other region in the world is vital to the University as we seek to understand and address global challenges,” says Deane. “Initiatives like the Asia Research Working Group enable us to explore complementary areas of research and help us to create a dynamic community of scholarship that informs and permeates our educational activities. This exposes students to global perspectives that reflect the diverse and complex world in which we live.”

Read more about McMaster’s approach to Internationalization:

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Global and Community Engagement at McMaster: Where FWI has brought us, and where we are going

Peter Mascher, McMaster’s new Associate Vice-President (International Affairs), says the Asia Research Working Group is an exciting initiative.

“McMaster has begun to make structural and strategic changes to enhance international activities and incorporate global perspectives. I encourage faculty to work with the Office of International Affairs to tap into resources and support that will help potentially impactful programs like this to take root.”

Tan’s goal is to continue to look for ways to build and leverage McMaster’s existing research strengths and to promote interdisciplinary dialogue around Asia research and education.

“What the conference did was to bring us all together to see the capacity, the potential that we have at McMaster. Now we need to build on that and find ways to push this to the next level.”

To learn more, contact the Asia Research Working Group.