Stem cells and serendipity: Unburdening social scientists’ feelings of failure

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


This chapter draws on the case of a research consortium that sought to produce industrially generated red blood cells for transfusion in order to reflect more broadly on how current institutions (including funding structures and policy discourses) continue to relegate some disciplines to a subservient role within supposedly interdisciplinary collaborations. In what was more accurately a “multidisciplinary” engagement, the social scientists within this science-led team operated almost entirely separately from the rest of the project. This experience was a salutary lesson, demonstrating how difficult it is to influence an existing collaboration where there was no scope for agenda setting or joint working. We discuss how we tried to make a rather unsatisfactory project work for us as social researchers, drawing on data from interviews with members of the project team to reflect on our own expectations. We were, nevertheless, able to exploit serendipitous moments in order to produce respectable social science and to use the experience to good effect in our subsequent research, illustrating how the learning goes on beyond the end of a project.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInterdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Failures
Subtitle of host publicationLessons Learned from Cautionary Tales
EditorsDena Fam, Michael O'Rourke
ISBN (Electronic)9780367207045
ISBN (Print)9780367207038
Publication statusPublished - 4 Nov 2020


  • interdisciplinarity
  • multidisciplinary
  • social science research
  • research funding


Dive into the research topics of 'Stem cells and serendipity: Unburdening social scientists’ feelings of failure'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this