Qatar: The recent expansion drive at Georgetown University Qatar (GU-Q), which includes new faculty, new programs, and even more students, has brought renewed focus on the research initiatives faculty pursue inside and outside of the classroom.
“We’re helping to build a strong, vibrant research culture in Doha,” says Dr. John Crist, the Director of Research at GU-Q. “We’re doing that by exploring a diverse range of issues that affect Qatar, the region and beyond, in the field of the humanities and the social sciences. We also look for ways to apply our research and scholarship to help meet local and global challenges.”
Grants awarded to GU-Q from the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) have funded a variety of projects, both independent and collaborative initiatives pursued by visiting and permanent faculty members. The total amount awarded to GU-Q from QNRF totals over U.S. $6 million since Georgetown established a campus in Qatar.
“Traditionally, the hard sciences – such as medicine, engineering, and business – receive more funding, since these well respected professions have a long tradition in the Middle East in the role of national development,” explains Dr. Crist. “So we have a responsibility to demonstrate the value of investing in social science research, and the value of evidence-based analysis and policy, for the social realm. We have to work harder to do that.”
One innovative GU-Q research project with major practical applications in the social realm is the International Islamic Bioethics Information Resource Project, which for the first time, identified more than 1,500 writings on Islamic perspectives on health care issues such as genetics, organ transplantation, and reproductive technologies, in both English and Arabic. QNRF funding for this project was through a three-year, U.S. $1,050,000 grant to the Bioethics Research Library (BRL) and the Georgetown Qatar Library (GU-Q) to develop these information services.
The SPHERE Project, which stands for “Science Productivity, Higher Education Development, and Knowledge Society”, is an example of GU-Q’s collective research orientation through partnerships with other major institutions in pursuit of some of the highest-level international scholarship. The QNRF-funded study, which looks at the development of the world’s research economies over the past 111 years, is led by a multi-national team from Qatar, the U.S., China, Germany, Japan, and Luxembourg. Dr. Crist notes the relevance of these cooperative relationships, saying: “We’re embedded in this global network of top research institutions. Collaborative research brings diversity to the projects and positions Qatar on the international research map.”
An example of GU-Q’s regionally-focused research activity is the project titled ‘Understanding Inflation and Its Implications for GCC Countries using Highly Disaggregated Data”. In this QNRF-funded project, which offers the first micro-study on the Gulf economies, Dr. Alexis Antoniades uses scanner level price and quantity data on fast moving consumer goods sold across the GCC to study the behavior of prices in the region. Dr Antoniades summarizes the regional impact of this project, commenting: “Outcomes from the study will promote academic knowledge, enhance policy making in the Gulf, help firms with their strategies, and benefit consumers”.
But the field of research isn’t limited to the faculty of GU-Q. The university’s Center for International and Regional Studies is a premier research institute devoted to the academic study of regional and international issues. Additionally, students at the Education City campus take part in QNRF-funded projects through the Undergraduate Research Experience Program (UREP), which was created by QF to “promote ‘Learning by Doing’ and ‘Hands-On’ mentorship activities as effective methods for undergraduate education.” Currently, 17 GU-Q students are engaged in UREP project research, on a diverse range of topics from urban planning in Doha to worldwide trends in bitcoin usage.
A research-based education, says Dr. Crist, is an important element of Georgetown’s education philosophy: “The connection between teaching and research is essential. Students learn better when they’re pushed to conduct research and to see how knowledge is created, and teachers enjoy grounding theoretical concepts in examples drawn from their real-life research.”
With several research projects in the pipeline, and the application for future research grants a continuing process, the outlook for high-level scholarship is strong for GU-Q, an international affairs institution, which isn’t the case for much of the world, says Dr. Crist: “This is a bleak time in the history of funding social sciences and humanities research. A downward trend has only accelerated pace following the recent global economic problems. But Qatar is expanding its research funding as a path for national development, and here at Georgetown, we’re committed to ensuring that investment pays off.”