CISW—The Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems


University of Colorado Boulder



Center Overview


CISW—The Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems, at the University of Colorado Boulder, is creating a new and unique research community.  This research community is being created by researchers from a variety of disciplines, from natural sciences, psychological sciences, engineering, and other disciplines, from the University of Colorado and other research organizations, and from inside and outside the University of Colorado.  Researchers are bringing their interests and expertise together to identify topics of interest related to the integrative study of work.


The Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems


The integrative study of work in living systems has three major goals:

·      To increase the understanding of the role that work plays in living systems

·      To increase the understanding of human work

·      To apply that understanding to current critical problems related to work: those that affect individuals, organizations, societies, and those that affect the crucial interaction between human work and work in other living systems.


CISW research projects thus will develop to cover a broad range of problems and research areas.  Not all will be connected to each other.  Most, though, will utilize multidisciplinary research teams closely related to the focus of each project.  The integrative character of the study of work will continue to develop as CISW seeks to relate the results of individual projects to each other, and to the understanding of the role of work in living systems.  From this integration of individual projects, better understanding and new research topics will continue to be built.


The Work Meets Life Project


The inaugural research focus of CISW has been the development of an integrative investigation into specific elements of ways that work gets done in living systems, conducted by an international group of researchers in life sciences, engineering, and psychological sciences.


Work Meets Life Project Phase I: The Work Meets Life volume


Building from two international working conferences, a group of researchers connected with the University of Colorado and the University of Cambridge have developed an inaugural volume on the integrative study of work, Work Meets Life: Exploring the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems, which is being published by the MIT Press.  The volume is now available; the volume will be released through a series of events in the 2012-13 academic year. 


This “guidebook” links research from a wide range of fields to work in living systems, including research in cellular physiology, neurobiology, biogeochemistry, electrical and computer engineering and multiobjective optimization, evolutionary biology, integrative design, industrial and organizational psychology, environmental physiology, and psychoneuroimmunology. 


Published journal book reviews of Work Meets Life have praised the innovative, integrative, and in-depth approach of both the collaborative research effort and the volume that resulted:


“A refreshingly new gaze.” “A genuinely integrative work.” “Provides a coherent but rich and complex narrative.” “An entirely new way of talking about work. (American Journal of Human Biology)


“A quest to develop integrative links…on work in living systems.”  “Aptly describe[s] complex scientific topics.”  “Provocative integrative ideas.”  “Breathtaking in its aspiration and it successfully delivers. (BioScience)


Work Meets Life succeeds admirably.” “Prepared with intellectual honesty.” Work Meets Life is an exemplary collaboration of minds.” (Metascience)

“Ambitious...” “A broad view of work in living systems.” “Novel and thought-provoking.” (Integrative and Comparative Biology)


“A rewarding read.” Recommended.  Academic and professional audiences, all levels.” (Choice)


Those reviews have been reflected in Work Meets Life’s placement by Library Journal on its most recent “Best Sellers in Biology” list: the top twenty best-selling books in biology to academic libraries over the past year.  Work Meet Life also ranked among the top three edited volumes. 


Additional information on the academic journal reviews of Work Meets Life, as well as the contributor list, chapter list, content summary, and links to the print and two e-book editions of Work Meets Life may be found here. 


Work Meets Life Project Phase II: Developing Cooperative Research Relationships


CISW is now moving forward to develop cooperative research relationships with other research organizations and individual researchers, relationships which will focus on research that either:

1.     More deeply investigates one of the areas covered in the Work Meets Life volume;

2.     Adds an additional closely related area to the current “mosaic” of areas of inquiry;

3.     Integrates between one or more of the areas of the Work Meets Life mosaic; or most especially,

4.     Investigates in an integrative manner the fundamental challenge posed at the end of the Work Meets Life volume: To integrate knowledge gained in research to meet “the fundamental challenge of integrating human work with the work of other living systems in a continuingly viable community of life, and work, on Earth.” ((p. 226.)  See the “Reflections: Moving Forward” section in Work Meets Life, pp. 224-226.)


Research Partners


The Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems is connecting with research partners in a wide range of disciplines, at the University of Colorado Boulder (CU-Boulder) and in the broader academic and nonacademic international research communities.  To further this end, the Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems has developed under the CU-Boulder Graduate School and the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research, allowing CISW to reach across traditional disciplinary boundaries and to draw on the longstanding CU-Boulder tradition of interdisciplinary research institutes.


Members and Fellows


Consistent with CISW’s multidisciplinary research mission, the Center’s members, fellows, and an international membership of visiting members and fellows are drawn from a wide range of disciplines, currently including sensory neurobiology, behavioral neuroscience, animal behavior, evolutionary biology, industrial and organizational psychology, communications, archeology, law, electrical engineering, computer science, and human-computer interaction. 


Additional Activities


CISW’s activities have to date been directed toward projects that can readily provide direct opportunities for researchers to work together and to identify topics and opportunities for future research.  Examples include:

·      A research grant proposal from CISW, developed shortly after the Center’s founding, brought together neuroscientists, industrial/organizational psychologists, mental health clinicians, and work performance researchers from across six institutions toward the aim of improving the understanding of counter-productive behavior in the workplace.

·      A CISW fellow is involved in a federally-funded, multi-disciplinary study of medication errors among nurses from both nursing and human factors perspectives.

·      CISW has developed private-sector support for its activities from such organizations as the IBM Corporation; John Wiley & Sons/Jossey-Bass Publishers; and WorkScience/The Center for Human Function & Work.

·      CISW has developed and held a variety of interdisciplinary research events beyond the Work Meets Life project. 


Interdisciplinary Research Event Series


Since 2002, CISW has hosted an interdisciplinary research event series during each academic year that provides researchers from inside and outside of CU the opportunity to present works-in-progress to an interdisciplinary audience of interested participants.  The nourishment at each event comes from the opportunity to work together around the development of an interesting concept—and from a sponsored reception.


Opportunities for Participation


·      University of Colorado researchers are invited to query the Center’s director and fellows about topics of interest and potential projects.

·      Established researchers from other institutions are invited to query about the Center’s programs for visiting scholars and visiting fellows.

·      Business and organizations will find that the Center’s founding members have a long history of work in and with the private sector.  The Center is interested in helping organizations solve critical problems, through closely specified research and application projects, and through broader research cooperation.

·      Foundations and funding agencies will find that CISW is able to bring together highly-qualified and innovative teams directed toward these organizations’ most critical long-term goals, in particular when these involve solving critical practical issues in work and employment or involve the impact of human work on the viability of work and life on Earth—for humans and for all living systems. 


If these opportunities for participation match your interests and needs, the Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems is interested in hearing from you.  Please contact CISW’s Director: Robert A. Levin, Director and Fellow, robert.levin [at], +1 303-735-8484.


CISW—The Center for the Integrative Study of Work in Living Systems


University of Colorado Boulder

457 UCB

Boulder, CO 80309-0457 USA