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James O’Dwyer Selected as 2020–2021 Radcliffe Institute Fellow

James O’Dwyer has been named a 2020–2021 fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University, joining an impressive class whose work will span the sciences, social sciences, humanities, and arts.

As the 2020–2021 Hrdy Fellow, O’Dwyer will pursue an individual project in a community dedicated to exploration and inquiry, focusing on overlaps between biological and social complex systems. These almost inevitably exhibit common mechanisms, like competition, cooperation, and adaptation, and scientists striving to understand these broad-ranging systems have research goals in common. O’Dwyer plans to build new links between fields during this fellowship, focusing on a project related to exchange and collapse. Exchange can help to mitigate uncertain environments, whether it is between biological organisms seeking nutrients in a turbulent landscape, or between human populations growing crops in an uncertain climate. By integrating knowledge, frameworks and expertise related to resource exchange across many different contexts, O’Dwyer hopes to understand the potential for depopulation and instability in cooperative systems—as well as what factors will prevent or avoid these phenomena—much more deeply.

“This fellowship class, taking shape amid a devastating pandemic, reflects our conviction that the cross-disciplinary exchange and deep exploration that Radcliffe enables are critically important for Harvard and for the wider world—especially in times like these, when we must confront unprecedented challenges,” said Radcliffe Dean Tomiko Brown-Nagin RI ’17, who is also the Daniel P. S. Paul Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard Law School and a professor of history in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

“Our fellows will advance human understanding in the sciences, social sciences, and humanities. Their creative work will change how we see the world. And they will pursue solutions to some of the most pressing issues facing our society. Their endeavors will be immeasurably enhanced by the unique intellectual cross-fertilization that takes place at Radcliffe.”

The 2020–2021 fellowship year will be virtual, with the possibility of a residential component, pending decisions on Harvard-wide policies by University leaders and informed by epidemiological models of the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. The acceptance rate for the incoming class was 2.8 percent, from a pool of nearly 1,400 applicants. The group represents six countries and a wide range of disciplines.

O’Dwyer is an Associate Professor in the Department of Plant Biology and School of Integrative Biology at the University of Illinois, and an affiliate of the Carl Woese Institute for Genomic Biology. In his Radcliffe project, he will seek to understand rules governing change and collapse in complex systems, with a particular focus on cooperation and resource exchange in variable environments.

The Radcliffe Institute has awarded more than 900 fellowships since its founding in 1999.

See the full list of fellows

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Publication Date: 05/26/2020
Photo credits: Keane Rosemary
Editor: Ryan Mulcahy