Director's Voice Blog

In the monthly Director’s Voice Blog, OBSSR Director William T. Riley, Ph.D., discusses timely topics related to behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR). Subscribe to receive updates from OBSSR Director William T. Riley, Ph.D.

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Celebrating the Behavioral and Social Sciences Supported by NIH

On the afternoons of November 18th and 19th, the NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Coordinating Committee will be hosting its sixth NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival. This annual event provides a venue for the NIH Institutes and Centers to highlight a few of the many recent NIH grant awardees who advance and accelerate the research on the behavioral and social contributions to health.

This year, our keynote speaker will be Shannon Zenk, Ph.D., M.P.H., RN, FAAN, the recently appointed Director of the National Institute of Nursing Research. Dr. Zenk joined NINR in September 2020, following a 14-year career as a faculty member at the University of Illinois Chicago (UIC) College of Nursing and the UIC Institute for Health Research and Policy. Her research focuses on community environments as a social determinant of health and health inequities. Dr. Zenk’s keynote will kick off Day 2 of the festival (Nov. 19 at 1:00pm ET), and we all look forward to her perspectives on health inequities, community environments, and the future directions of NINR.

Day 1 of the festival begins with a presentation on the State of the Behavioral and Social Sciences Research at the NIH. The two research presentation sessions that follow cover a range of topics including the influence of loneliness on cognitive health, the impacts of social media on LGBTQ+ persons, the efficacy of yoga and other approaches for general anxiety, perinatal programs for people in prison, ethical digital storytelling, and the use of ambient and mobile sensors as a “behaviorome” for health.

On Day 2 following the keynote presentation, two research presentation sessions will include topics such as geospatial methods in population research, the impact of minority stress on nicotine use, the social epidemiology of sleep, adherence to COVID-19 mitigation strategies in schools, the effects of COVID-19 on child physical activity, and collective action, transmission, and COVID-19 outcomes in native South American populations.

The breadth of research presented at the Festival should provide something of interest for everyone, but I encourage you not to attend only those sessions or presentations that are consistent with your research interests but to attend all of the sessions and presentations to get a better sense of the breadth of behavioral and social sciences research (BSSR) that the NIH Institutes and Centers fund. The breadth and impact of exciting recent BSSR is what the festival is all about and what we like to showcase each year. In past years, those who have attended most, or all of the sessions regularly tell me how surprised they are about the range of research that NIH supports, how interesting it was to learn about new areas of research they didn’t know much about, and how some of the methods, tools, and approaches of these new research areas could be applied to their specific research interests. We have even sparked a few collaborations among investigators who learned about each other’s research at the Festival.

The NIH Behavioral and Social Sciences Research Festival will be virtual this year, and you can register and view the agenda and bios of the presenters for this year’s Festival at: https://www.scgcorp.com/obssrfest2021/Registration. Join us in celebrating the excellent research that the NIH Institutes and Centers support in the behavioral and social sciences.