Tuesday, September 23, 2014

PBS network scientist leads effort to launch the first center for network science in Russia

IU network researcher Stanley Wasserman in collaboration with faculty from the National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRU HSE) in Russia received a $1.5 million grant to set up an International Laboratory for Applied Network Research at the Russian university.

The grant, which was awarded by the HSE, provides funding from 2014 to 2016, at which point, Wasserman believes, the lab, given its strengths, will continue to gain support, with either  additional funding from the university or  external grants.  Quite a few network science institutes now operate at universities in the US. This is the first one in Russia.

Wasserman, who holds a joint appointment in the departments of Statistics and Psychological and Brain Sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences, will serve as the academic supervisor for the lab—consulting, teaching, and collaborating with faculty and students at the school and ensuring the lab’s connectedness with the broader world of network science. He has also been named a Research Professor at HSE.

As a leading methodologist in the field of network analysis, Wasserman designs studies and analyzes data for researchers around the world in such varied areas as management, community psychology, and public health. He is also the coordinating editor of Network Science, a major new journal in the field published by Cambridge University Press. His book "Social Network Analysis: Methods and Applications" is a classic in the field, still in print after almost 20 years, and widely used in university courses. His work has also contributed to putting Indiana University on the leading edge of advancements in the field itself. He was one of the first network scientists at IU, and through conference grants, collaborations, and teaching, he continues to be an important network research presence on campus.

Wasserman’s relationship with the Higher School of Economics in Russia began two years ago when he taught a standing-room only introductory seminar on network analysis at the school. At that point, says Valentina Kuskova, director of the new lab, he and others recognized the enormous demand in Russia for knowledge of the discipline and set out to develop the current laboratory.

Wasserman’s participation has been key to the project’s visibility and success, Kuskova explains. “This lab would simply not have been possible without him. Wasserman,” she states, “is a visionary. As a scientific supervisor, he goes beyond providing ideas, inspiration, and encouragement. The results speak for themselves. We are well on our way to establishing and popularizing the field of network research in Russia.”

The new International Laboratory, one of twenty at the school, is itself a network made up of four hubs, each on different HSE campuses—two in Moscow, one in St. Petersburg, and one in Perm. United by common methodologies, tools, and techniques, the research applications span multiple disciplines and areas: political science, education, psychology, management, international business, sociology, and economics. The lab has already taught two week-long workshops in network analysis (one in Moscow in June and a second in St Petersburg in August) and has a number of joint projects well underway.

The lab also has several partnerships and joint research projects with other centers for network analysis in the United States. An international conference, organized by the lab, with invited workshops, is planned for November 2014.

Among some of the current research are studies of student academic achievement as a function of social networks, studies on the relationships between companies and their subsidiaries, studies of public health, and studies of current and historical political and social movements in Russia and the U.S.

Wasserman notes that changes in Russia and the Russian economy over the last 20 years have sparked new interests. “Until recently there was no need for a faculty of management in Russia. Now there are big companies and a need for savvy managers. One of my colleagues studies the energy industry, for example. Russia supplies most of Europe with oil and natural gas. She looks at how energy companies interact with each other and their subsidiaries.”

Over the last twenty years network analysis has become widespread across Europe. The first European conference on network research was in Barcelona in July 2014. In the 21st century, globalization and the recognition of interconnectedness, along with the emergence of the Internet and social media, make network methods an increasingly fitting way to examine many aspects of the social world.

The network under investigation might be social, economic or mathematical. It could examine the spread of ideas, products, diseases, a cultural fad or new technology. Yet, at the center of network science is the idea that connectivity, systematicity, and dependence between the units or actors of a network are essential to greater understanding of those units and their organization.

“In order to really study who behaves the way they behave and why, you need relational data,” said Wasserman, “This enables us to see social influence in action.”

To learn more about the lab and to speak with Wasserman, contact Liz Rosdeitcher at 812-855-4507 or rosdeitc@indiana.edu.

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