In this interview, Profs. Courtney Cuthbertson and Josie Rudolphi share how the CSBS Small Grant funds helped them address an interdisciplinary problem and collect pilot data to support external funding applications. Profs. Cuthbertson and Rudolphi offer advice for faculty interested in applying for a CSBS Small Grant.
Courtney Cuthbertson, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Human Development & Family Studies and an Extension Faculty Specialist. Prof. Cuthbertson’s research explores how traumatic societal- and community-level events and conditions are constructed as individual problems expressed through personal mental health and substance use outcomes.
Josie Rudolphi, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. Prof. Rudolphi’s research interests include child agricultural injury prevention, young adult agricultural workers, mental health, and agricultural safety and health.
Prof. Cuthbertson and Prof. Rudolphi share with us their experience as recipients of a CSBS Small Grant for their interdisciplinary project, Understanding and Responding to Perceived Causes and Consequences of Behavioral Health among Illinois Agricultural Producers.
Tell us briefly about your research project.
Our research project was a qualitative investigation about the mental health of Illinois farmers. Quantitative studies have demonstrated higher rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide among people in agriculture, but findings have been mixed about contributing factors. Our project used semi-structured interviews to allow for a deep dive with each participant about how they thought of their own agricultural work and identity, community and family relationships, mental health experiences, and access to mental health supports and resources. We wanted to use research findings to inform Extension farm stress initiatives as both of us have joint appointments as Extension Specialists.
In what ways did the CSBS Small Grant Program help you to connect with interdisciplinary collaborators at Illinois?
The CSBS Small Grant Program helped the two of us—from Human Development and Family Studies and Agricultural and Biological Engineering—to formalize a starting point for our collaborative work, which has continued and grown since receiving the grant. It was also an introduction to further engagement with CSBS, including connections to additional collaborators, speaking at CSBS panel events, and participating in additional CSBS programs such as the Qualitative Research Initiative.
What did the interdisciplinary collaboration allow you to do that you would not have been able to do on your own or with collaborators from your own discipline?
Interdisciplinary collaboration has enabled each of us to learn new theoretical perspectives and practical approaches to the topics on which we conduct research and Extension activities. It has allowed us to more holistically consider agriculturalists in context, including moving research to action through Extension programs.
How did the initial CSBS Small Grant funding aid in your external funding efforts?
The CSBS Small Grant helped us to establish a successful record that has led to over $8 million in external grant funding in under four years. The largest of these grants is to co-direct the North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center (NCFRSAC), a USDA-funded initiative to provide stress assistance and stress reduction resources to agricultural communities across 12 Midwest states. The NCFRSAC effort involves over 30 collaborators across the region from different backgrounds.
What advice do you have for Illinois faculty and staff who may be interested in applying for a CSBS Small Grant?
The CSBS Small Grant program is fantastic. If you have an idea for a project, apply! Look at projects that have been funded in the past and consider reaching out to those investigators to ask about their experience with the program. Contact CSBS staff to ask questions you have—they have consistently been very supportive, interested, and engaged.