Transdisciplinarity—quite a mouthful to say, but the best word to describe the work of Dr. Cindy Gilbert. It is the ability to use what are becoming known as "transdisciplines," such as research methodology or evaluation science, to work with substantive experts in many disciplines to solve problems. In Dr. Gilbert's case, it’s the ability to work with such experts across a wide variety of topics, applying social science methodology to design solid research for Congress.
As a trained research methodologist at the United States’ Government Accountability Office (GAO) in Washington D.C., Dr. Gilbert works with teams in many areas of policy-making. "As a methodologist at the agency, I am usually working on several projects at a time, spanning many policy and issue areas: homeland security, international affairs, education… I am working now to develop a panel of economic experts to evaluate various policy options to mitigate climate change, and to make recommendations to Congress, for example—but that is one of the fifteen projects I’m working on right now."
"The thing all the projects have in common is the need for solid scientific methodology. The work has to be done well, but we’re always balancing that with meeting the tight time lines of policy makers. It is exciting to work for an organization that people listen to—we work for Congress, and through Congress, our work has an impact on the American people. You want your work to have impact, and when I'm working on something here, I know that it makes a difference, and that our findings play a role in changes that are made in the federal government."
With that kind of responsibility comes, of course, a clear level of rigor. "When people don’t like GAO’s findings, their first move will always be to question and attack the methodology. The work has to be well designed, and I really think I came in with just the right experience and training needed to do this."
When still a graduate student, Cindy pursued a paid internship with the GAO while working on her dissertation. When she graduated, turning the internship into a full-time position was a relatively smooth process. "Working on various projects for [CGU faculty members] Drs. Crano and Donaldson definitely helped prepare me. When I came to D.C. [for the internship], they said 'She doesn't need much supervision' and let me go for it. It was a great feeling to know I was so well-prepared."