From August 25 to September 5, 2014, a group of graduate students and post-doctoral researchers gathered at the Hatfield Marine Science Centre in Newport, Oregon to participate in the Transdisciplinary Academy in Marine Resource Sustainability (TAMRS), hosted by Oregon State University. The course, organized by Lorenzo Ciannelli and Kathryn Sobocinski, was designed to give emerging academics the tools and understanding to work in an increasingly mixed-disciplines world, and to use these tools and work together to solve our big picture challenges in fisheries and marine resources. Transdisciplinary is different from interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary in that transdisciplinary work requires the most integrated level of collaboration on problem definition, shared methodologies, and policy solutions, rather than each discipline working in parallel on a common problem.1
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Members of the Transdisciplinary Academy giving the 'iron claw' salute. From left to right: Catarina Wor, Andrea Haas, Kathryn Sobocinski, Nadine Heck, Lorenzo Ciannelli, Michele Barnes-Mauthe, Eric Angel, Karly Miller, Elizabeth Clark, Saskia Otto, Sarah Klain, Kelli Johnson, Staci Lewis, Victoria Ramenzoni, Sarah Simons, Joshua Stoll, and Ana Spalding (Photo by: A. Haas).

Andrea (a fisheries economist) and Catarina (a quantitative fisheries scientist) both hail from the University of British Columbia's Fisheries Centre, and Eric (a social scientist) is from Simon Fraser University's School of Resource and Environmental Management. What drew us together initially was the Canadian Fisheries Research Network (CFRN), a partnership of academics, government scientists and managers, and fishing industry members, with the shared goal of enhancing research capacity in Canadian fisheries. Although each of us had experience in collaborating with different stakeholders in fisheries management, learning deeper collaboration and transdisciplinary approaches was a unique opportunity. When the chance to apply to TAMRS arose, we jumped on it.

TAMRS was borne out of "a fundamental divide between educational programs that focus on knowledge generation and those that focus on professional development", which the authors note is creating a communication gap between resource managers and scientists. "Ultimately, transdisciplinary graduate education programs need not only to bridge the divide between disciplines, but also between types of knowledge".1

The two week long course was designed to allow participants to learn different disciplinary perspectives in marine resource issues, recognize the difficulties and explore strategies for overcoming challenges in crossdisciplinary interactions, develop and maintain professional relationships with peers from other disciplines, and lastly, carry out a transdisciplinary project on marine resource sustainability. Participants were permitted to apply with a project, or take up an assigned project once accepted at the academy. We decided to apply with a project that drew on the strengths from our respective CFRN research projects: a bioeconomic model for the gillnet salmon fisheries on the Skeena river system in northern British Columbia (Canada).

Other projects included spatially explicit bioeconomic models for mixed stocks, assessment of effort drivers in catch shares fisheries, comparison of economic and ecological outcomes of catch shares, and even an evaluation of the transdisciplinary research approach itself. 

The time at the academy was also filled with incredible guest speakers, such as Larry B. Crowder (Center for Ocean Solutions, Stanford University), and Marty Anderies (Arizona State University), as well as many lectures on bioeconomics, institutional structures, and fisheries management from different organizations such as the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.  

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The authors at Crater Lake, fostering collaborative relationships for future research. From left to right: Andrea Haas, Catarina Wor, and Eric Angel (Photo by: A. Haas)
On the weekend (between our two working weeks), the participants were treated to a camping trip at Mount Bailey and Crater Lake. Mount Bailey proved to be a gruelling hike, but the trip to Crater Lake afterwards removed any thoughts of aching legs from the participant's minds.  

The most fruitful collaborations often take place far from the offices and computers, and true to that, the collaboration amongst several participants to re-write the Eagle's 'Hotel California' as a TAMRS-themed rendition provided laughter for everyone.

So, what did we take away from our experience at TAMRS? Well, a lot actually. This learning experience showed us that transdisciplinary research is often much harder than it seems. Having a common language and understanding of the research problem to be addressed emerged as one challenge that collaborative researchers need to overcome. As well, a dominant methodology will often emerge to address the research question, and both natural and social scientists must be able to relinquish the ideology that their discipline has the 'right' way to tackle a problem. Rather, transdisciplinary collaborations require finding the complementarity in their respective disciplines that allow them to tackle the 'big picture' problems in a holistic fashion. Transdisciplinary research also takes much longer than expected, largely due to the many iterations required in these processes of problem definition, methodological agreement, and policy implication. 

Overall, the response from participants going forward was overwhelmingly in favour of transdisciplinary research, despite the hurdles. Participants felt that transdisciplinary collaboration was the new frontier where scientists, managers, and stakeholders will overcome some of the biggest questions of our time. However, as Ciannelli et al. noted in their paper,1 there has been institutional inertia in universities in promoting this concept. While some universities are beginning to foster graduate education in interdisciplinary programs, the incentives for collaborative endeavours and job prospects for those who undertake them (particularly at the tenure track level) are sparse.2 Ciannelli et al. liken our disciplinary 'bubbles' to mastering certain cuisines in the kitchen, but being unable to collectively cook a gourmet meal. 

So, perhaps the momentum for transdisciplinary research will be a grass-roots movement. Managers, stakeholders, and certainly the academy participants and organizers, all embrace the concept of this deep level of collaboration and cooperation. Professional relationships were fostered at this academy that will serve all of us well in this new frontier.

As one anonymous participant remarked: "I'm completely sold on doing all work with other people". So let's get cooking!  

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1 Ciannelli L, Hunsicker M, Beaudreau A, Bailey K, Crowder LB, Finley C, Webb C, Reynolds J, Sagmiller K, Anderies JM, Hawthorne D, Parrish J, Heppell S, Conway F and Chigbu P (2014) Transdisciplinary graduate education in marine resource science and management. ICES Jounal of Marine Science, 71(5): 1047–1051. 
2 Rhoten D and Parker A (2004) Risks and rewards of an interdisciplinary research path. Science 306: 2046.