Interdisciplinary Research Leaders (IRL) is a national leadership program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for teams of researchers and community partners. These teams use the power of applied research—by working with the community to explore critical issues and apply the findings—to advance health and equity. Their innovation helps build a Culture of Health, one that enables everyone across the United States to live longer, healthier lives.
Each year, a new class of fellows from across the United States begin the IRL program and have the opportunity to build their leadership skills, implement a community-engaged, action-oriented, and rigorous research project, and learn effective strategies to increase the impact of their research through dissemination, communication, and community organizing. Collaborating across sectors and disciplines, the fellows build connections between factors that shape health, well-being, and equity—such as education, neighborhoods, social services, income, and faith.
The IRL teams are composed of three individuals—two researchers and one community partner—interested in applied research to build a Culture of Health. To drive change in every sector, teams represent both health and non-health fields and are cross-disciplinary. All IRL teams apply to the program together and must:
- Incorporate multiple disciplines, such as public policy, design, health, transportation, social work, education, and urban planning.
- Have two researchers, each with a terminal degree (PhD, MD, DrPH) or a master’s degree with evidence of extensive professional experience, including significant research and publications.
- Include one community partner with community-oriented knowledge and relationships. Community partners are interested in gaining research capacity to increase impact.
Note: IRL fellows live and work across the United States and territories. IRL fellows on a given team do not need to be located in the same location.
Research Project and Themes
When applying to the IRL program, teams propose a research project that is rigorous in methodology and rooted in the community, which will be implemented and completed during their three years in the IRL program. All teams apply to work within pre-specified thematic areas. The current thematic areas for the cohorts are:
- Cohort 1 (entered in 2016): Housing and Community Development or Early Childhood
- Cohort 2 (entered in 2017): Community and Individual Resilience or Youth Development and the Prevention of Violence
- Cohort 3 (entered in 2018): Health Care Delivery in Rural America or Social Determinants of Health in Rural America
Over the course of the three-year program, fellows will:
- Receive $25,000 annually per person for participation in the program and research project funding of up to $125,000 for the team.
- Receive support from mentors with expertise in research methodologies, community engagement, translation, and specific topic areas.
- Develop leadership skills through mentorship, networking, and an advanced leadership curriculum.
The IRL Curriculum
The IRL curriculum is made up of four components. Through in-person meetings, weekly webinars, and online-mini-courses, the IRL leadership curriculum offers fellows a variety of learning activities and experiences in each of the four parts of the program. Below are short descriptions of the goal of each curriculum component.
- Community Change Leadership: Understanding issues facing the community and how to build and lead movements to create change that will promote health equity and social justice.
- Collaboration and Community Engagement: Facilitate effective, ethical, research-community partnerships across diverse disciplines and sectors, in both virtual and in-person contexts.
- Policy and Communication: Through a solid understanding of the policymaking process, communicate research outcomes to achieve policy objectives.
- Rigorous Research: Apply scientifically sound and rigorous methodologies of qualitative and quantitative research.
Results: Enhanced Skills & Leadership
Upon completing the IRL program, fellows will have connections with a national group of leaders working in diverse sectors and will be equipped to:
- Lead and collaborate across sectors, professions, and disciplines.
- Engage with communities and influence systems and institutions.
- Apply research and data to strengthen programs and policies.
- Demonstrate a deep understanding of equity, Culture of Health, research, and other concepts.
- Advocate for systemic change.
- Frame issues and build public support.
Leadership Programs at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Interdisciplinary Research Leaders is just one of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s leadership programs for people who are interested in applying their expertise—no matter what they do—to help make our country healthier and more equitable. Some other programs are:
- Clinical Scholars, for health professionals in clinical, academic, or community settings
- Health Policy Research Scholars, for second-year doctoral students from underrepresented populations and/or disadvantaged backgrounds
- Culture of Health Leaders, for individuals from every field, profession, and sector