Liaquat Hossain takes a multidisciplinary approach to teaching and research.
He’s always looking for ways to solve real-world problems through collaborations with academic colleagues and business partners.
“I have a natural inclination to step outside the boundaries of the traditional faculty-school-college structure and explore formal and informal academic partnerships with other colleges and industry partners, including employers and community outreach programs, to create and implement innovative degree and research programs,” said Hossain, who joined the University of Nebraska at Kearney in May 2019 as a Ron and Carol Cope Professor and chair of the cyber systems department.
Hossain is a firm believer in promoting “collective sense-making” to achieve institutional goals.
“Establishing a positive environment for collaboration by developing collective interests among academic units and key external constituents is pivotal to successful innovative academic program development,” he said.
As chair of the cyber systems department, Hossain sees an opportunity to partner with academic programs across UNK’s three colleges to pursue research and create new degrees, minors or specializations that combine technology with areas such as business, social science, teacher education and health care. He’s also focused on strengthening the College of Business and Technology’s relationships with businesses and organizations across the state.
“Recent unprecedented challenges brought to our society and corporations at all levels require us to rethink many aspects of the functioning of our educational institutions,” he said.
To address these challenges and take advantage of future opportunities, Hossain believes universities must:
- evaluate existing educational models and modes of delivery;
- establish interdisciplinary programs that provide students, business professionals and faculty members with the critical skills needed to drive societal and business outcomes; and
- increase diversity and gender balance in STEM education through curriculum innovation and school and community partnerships.
In his own research, Hossain uses a complex systems approach to bridge disciplines such as social, behavioral and information science, business and economics, physical and human geography, public health and engineering systems to address communication and responses related to natural and man-made disasters.
“My primary research deals with social medicine, disaster medicine and public health preparedness, for which I am interested in exploring communications and responses to bio-related threats, food, animal and public health disease outbreaks and other types of natural and man-made disasters requiring multijurisdictional, coordinated responses,” Hossain explained. “My secondary research is in the area of health systems, health promotion and risk reduction for vulnerable populations.”
Hossain is currently leading a number of National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation proposals related to COVID-19, including resilience networks for pandemic preparedness and response coordination, social resilience networks for emotional contagion during the pandemic and digital mental health interventions for adolescents and youth. He’s also looking at the use of social networks to improve diabetes and prediabetes care.
Hossain has secured more than $10 million in competitive research funding during his academic career and published over 200 international peer-reviewed research papers. He is specialty editor-in-chief of Frontiers in Psychology, the second-most-cited psychology journal, and Frontiers in Communication, with a focus on disaster communication. He’s also been appointed associate editor for BMC Health Services Research, an open-access health care journal.
What sets your research apart from others?
My work in the multidisciplinary information field helped in providing very significant advancement to the field of disaster coordination, as well as exploring multijurisdictional coordination challenges for dealing with emerging areas such as the spread of infections, disasters related to floods and tsunamis, fires and biosecurity and humanitarian-related disasters. My research in disasters incorporates both challenges of hierarchical structures and emerging community-based networks required to develop effective preparedness and response for dealing with large-scale disasters related to environmental, food, animal, human and biosecurity threats and humanitarian disasters.
What are your biggest discoveries?
My theoretical and methodological work on social networks and complex systems provided new directions to interdisciplinary educational and research programs related to computational and information sciences, complex health emergencies, global disease epidemiology and control, disaster medicine, immunity building/capacity development for organizations and communities and university wide transdisciplinary research initiatives in complexity, resilience and systems with wider theoretical, methodological and translational research and education related to population health, data and society. I have been investigating the functioning and robustness of hierarchical structures and potential problems leading to disruption or delay in the adaptation of behaviors for optimal functioning.
My theoretical work on the examination of feedback systems leading to effectiveness and efficiency in learning and correcting or intervention to changed behavior in complex systems provides an important step toward understanding how different systems function and self-organize, which is an important step toward understanding the performance outcome of disaster preparedness and response. My methodological and analytical techniques drawn from mathematical sociology, social anthropology and computer science in exploring coordination problems in chaotic systems could have application in supporting and further building large-scale, transdisciplinary research clusters for disaster preparedness and response.
How do you measure success as a researcher?
Research that matters to science and society through developing new theoretical and/or methodological perspectives or refuting existing theories/methods or even providing significant extension to add value to existing theories and methodologies. Research that offers translational societal/business/governmental outcomes. Kind of like solving grand societal challenges.
What are the qualities of a good faculty researcher?
Curiosity, curiosity, curiosity. Ambitious, inquiry mindset, inquisitiveness, disciplined, methodological use of theoretical/methodological lens and its application in offering solutions to not only scientific discoveries but also translational societal outcomes.
What is your biggest strength as a researcher?
I have a huge appetite for being a strong theoretician, as well as well-grounded methodological expertise. I am a bit agnostic about solving trivial practical/fewer complex problems, rather I focus on maintaining perhaps a singular theoretical and methodological focus that can be used to offer solutions to scientific inquiries in many domains and also for translating the scientific discoveries to societal outcomes.
How do you balance research and teaching? Do they benefit each other? In what way?
This is very important for me personally as an educator. I am sure many of my fellow academics also share a similar view that engaging students in theoretical discussions and its application to practice and creating experiential learning opportunities through problem-based learning in a lab setting is critical to lifelong education. Also, incorporating experiential learning through empirical, case-based discussions about real-world challenges and inviting students to conduct organizational and community-based case studies as a pilot project to demonstrate their theoretical and methodological understanding gained from the course in a real-world setting.
How do you involve students in your research?
I like to engage and cultivate students, as well as junior and mid-career faculty members, through informal research group meetings that offer an avenue for theoretical and methodological discussions of seminal work and its application to solving problems in a different domain, as well as seminar series like brown bag discussions. I also invite honors students and junior faculty members to work on projects, papers and grants.
Describe a perfect day in the classroom/lab/field researching.
Having fun with students, discussing classical theoretical and methodological work, relating that to the current environment and engaging students in debate/dialogue.
What role did education/mentors/teachers in your youth play in leading you down this career path?
Huge! Early career mentorship is critical to develop a solid theoretical and methodological focus, plus being able to work with a number of world leaders from diverse fields helped shape my research trajectory.
Who has helped you the most in your career? What’s the best advice they gave you?
Professor Rolf T. Wigand is a world-recognized leader in the information and communications science field. He was also trained by Professor Everett M. Rogers, who originated the diffusion of innovations theory. He suggested to aim high and focus on looking at the practical problems with a solid theoretical lens and rigorous methodological approaches. He made me realize that Einstein’s notion of nothing is as practical as theory as theories are developed/proposed/refuted through years of collection and analysis of empirical data.
Tell us about a time in your life when you worked the hardest.
Even as a junior faculty, it was expected that we would work 80 hours a week. I am not joking. Senior faculty used to tell us that if you want to build your work, you will need to work 70-80 hours a week for the first 10 years of your career.
What stands out about UNK’s research programs?
Research support and encouragement for undergraduate research.
Title: Ron and Carol Cope Professor and Department Chair, Cyber Systems
College: Business and Technology
Education: Ph.D., Information Technology and Computer Science, The University of Wollongong Australia, 1998
Years at UNK: 2
Areas of research/specialization: Disasters, Disaster Medicine, Social Medicine, Biosecurity, Resilient Systems