Meet the Gluon Researchers

In conversation with the revolutionary additions to the knowledge eco-system


Nikki Brand started the Methodology theme for the Resilient Delta Initiative nearly two years ago. The goal was to introduce a methodological intervention aimed at testing methods for the integration of insights and approaches in a wide disciplinarily setting. Her Gluon project now boasts a thriving community of three Gluon researchers.

How would you explain the gluon work and the project?

The Gluon Researcher has a unique, new role – to help experts from different backgrounds come together and create shared ideas and research plans. It’s like being a bridge between people with different knowledge and experiences in and outside the academic world. Not only does a Gluon help foster collective ideas; it also enhances the efficiency of projects. Besides creating a collaborative environment, a Gluon also focusses on promoting positive group dynamics that enable the development of shared hypothesis. In doing so we hope to fill in the missing link in knowledge production. We are a small but strategic addition to the knowledge ecosystem, that ensures whole groups of people get to create and apply knowledge together.


Why did you create the gluon position?

After multiple research jobs as a Postdoc, I realized that there was a real need for this kind of job. Being involved in various multidisciplinary research consortia, I observed that despite our collective ambition, we often fell short of our goals. There were moments where we struggled to come up with solutions that could be effectively applied in practice. However, I also sensed that with a different organizational approach, we could not only fulfill our goals but also surpass our expectations. As a dedicated researcher you want to address the word’s challenges through your knowledge and be useful. When I got the opportunity to study how transdisciplinary knowledge production should work, I recognized it not only as a systematic challenge but also as an opportunity.

Although the pursuit of transdisciplinarity in policy dates back to the 90s, successful implementation has been elusive. Now, with a sense of urgency, everything has aligned. I guess it was a matter of being the right person, in the right place at the right time.

Transdisciplinary research has been around for a while, but you are the first to turn the theory into a full-time academic position. Why do you think you were the person to do that, what factors were at play?

I believe it was a combination of factors. During my time in research consortia, I found myself naturally involved in Gluon work, so I knew it could be done. Besides my personal experience in the field, I could also back it up with academic literature. Numerous studies in the US and Switzerland had already demonstrated the value of transdisciplinarity. Additionally, the right conditions were in place. The Convergence board recognized the importance of exploring transdisciplinary work. There’s a growing awareness that global challenges require a fresh approach. Although the pursuit of transdisciplinarity in policy dates back to the 90s, successful implementation has been elusive. Now, with a sense of urgency, everything has aligned. I guess it was a matter of being the right person in the right place at the right time.


What is the big difference between a Gluon Researcher and a more traditional role?

In a more traditional role, you use concepts and methods from an existing field, giving you guidance. You often work alone, giving you a lot of autonomy, which for some can feel isolating. As a Gluon researcher you are first and foremost a team player, for the connections and concepts you create are dependent on the input you get from your team of experts. This sense of belonging really helps to give meaning to your work. Additionally, you are continuously challenged to make new conceptual connections, there is a big sense of novelty, flexibility, and innovation.

If you could look into the future 5-10 years, what would you like the Gluon Project to be?

I would love to see a school of Convergence which houses a pool of dedicated Gluons. It would function as a platform for the creation of collective knowledge, where transdisciplinary methods are monitored and shared, and academic work is published that inspires streamlined research agendas. Experienced gluon researchers can also function as scouts in the knowledge landscape, being beacons of trust people can reach out to if they’re looking for niche expertise. A secret side benefit would be that the knowledge we produce isn’t only more relevant, but that academica becomes a nicer place to work in. Scientists would no longer have to struggle with this feeling of inadequacy and isolation but feel a greater sense of belonging and contribution that I now feel is oftentimes lacking. That is my dream.