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Sociology's Watts Receives NSF Award

By James Devitt

Duncan Watts

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has named Columbia sociologist Duncan Watts one of its Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award winners. The $371,877 award is the NSF's most prestigious honor for junior faculty members.

Watts' appointment in the sociology department is funded initially by the University's Office of Strategic Initiatives (OSI), a branch of the Office of the Executive Vice Provost. Beginning in 2004, the position will be funded by Arts and Sciences.

Established in 1999, OSI seeks to identify and address 21st century societal needs through innovative interdisciplinary research. By fostering linkages among the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities, it strives to enhance the competitiveness of new research areas and ideas.

"The Provost's office, through its Strategic Initiative Fund, is helping schools bring extraordinarily talented faculty to Columbia—faculty who are likely to produce important new ideas over the next several decades," said Provost and Dean of Faculties Jonathan R. Cole. "Duncan Watts represents a new type of social scientist who will move with increasing ease between the social sciences and natural and physical sciences. His work exemplifies the research that we are committed to supporting."

Executive Vice Provost Michael Crow said, "Columbia has come to recognize that an integrating style of organization, which emphasizes processes, networks and outcomes, is often a tremendous advantage in addressing highly complex problems. Professor Watts' research is part of the Office of Strategic Initiatives' vision to pursue innovative scholarship in addressing societal challenges in the 21st century."

David Cohen, vice president for Arts and Sciences, said, "Scholarship that draws from both the social and natural sciences, as Professor Watts' does, is an exciting path for future research in sociology. The National Science Foundation award is a firm endorsement of this approach."

The award will support Watts' study, "The Theory and Applications of Complex Social Networks." The research seeks to map out how large-scale human networks, such as multi-national corporations, function in the new economy. Watts' work draws upon research techniques used in physics, applied mathematics and computer science and applies them to problems studied by sociologists and economists.

"The study of social networks has a 50-year history, but the statistical analysis of large social and economic networks is only just becoming feasible," said Watts. "Furthermore, the relationship between a system's interaction structure and its functions globally has been largely overlooked both by economics and sociology."

"It is crucial not only to integrate ideas and techniques from across the social and natural sciences, but also to build and maintain cross-disciplinary collaborations between established researchers in sociology and economics, as well as in mathematics, physics and computer science," added Watts, who is also affiliated with Columbia's Earth Institute.

The NSF established the CAREER program in 1995 to help top-performing scientists and engineers early in their careers to develop simultaneously their contributions and commitment to research and to education.

Published: Mar 07, 2001
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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