November 19, 2015

MITN Postgrad/ECR Workshop: Felix Nobis and Interdisciplinarity

MITN Postgraduates and Early Career Researchers

Event #2: Workshop with Dr Felix Nobis on Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Projects

Monash-Warwick International Portal, 28 October 2015

Our latest MITN event for postgraduates and early career researchers was introduced by Gavin Schwartz-Leeper, MITN project coordinator. He outlined the objectives for the group, including the long-term aim of producing collaborative projects funded by the Monash-Warwick Alliance. He then passed us over to Dr Felix Nobis (Monash Lecturer in Theatre and Performance Studies) who took us through an engaging and energetic workshop that established a strong standard to aim for in our future events.

Felix outlined some principles for interdisciplinary collaboration, emphasising that when two constituent bodies of knowledge come together they should aspire to meet on neutral terms, thereby establishing a ‘third space’ in which the collaboration takes place. The priority of each researcher in these collaborations should be to identify what their discipline may uniquely contribute to the collaboration. He gave us the example of his own collaborative project with Dr Chris Thompson from the Monash Faculty of Science, called ‘Open Space Learning: Chemistry Project’, which uniquely uses theatre techniques as a means of teaching elements of scientific knowledge, as well as seeking to equip science students to use performance techniques in the dissemination of their work.

Felix took us through a number of illustrative exercises from his project to teach some basic skills in understanding chemistry, utilising the Monash-Warwick International Portal’s renowned capacity for ‘embodied’ knowledge. Many thanks to Christian Griffiths on the Monash side for controlling the portal cameras so that we could engage more actively across the virtual classroom. The exercises certainly served to keep us alert and engaged, and it was clear that interdisciplinary engagement can lead to some startling and exciting results. Our hope is that Felix’s example will offer the postgraduates and early career researchers of MITN a standard to which they can aspire when forming research clusters and initiating collaborative projects.

Discussion

Unfortunately, at the end of the workshop, the Warwick contingent had to vacate their portal room, and they consequently missed out on the discussion with Felix that followed. However, those that remained on the Monash end were able to draw some valuable lessons from the event.

  • Regan Maiquez asked a pertinent question about the interdisciplinary structure of Felix and Chris’s project. He noted that while it interpreted chemistry through theatre techniques, it did not seem to offer the opposite approach of examining theatre through chemistry methodologies. He suggested that certain theatre works from the early-modern, medieval and ancient periods could be potentially subject to analysis from scientific points of view. Felix acknowledged that this would be an interesting area to pursue in future collaborations.
  • Jessica Trevitt observed that Felix and Chris’s project combined two very disparate disciplines and therefore posed a challenge in terms of how they may be brought together. The collaborations that MITN is hoping to foster, however, take place between more closely-related disciplines, for example History and Literature, and so the specific benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary engagement may not be as apparent to participants. She suggested that by actively articulating and sharing our research methodologies, we might find ourselves in a better position to understand and embrace our potential as a network.
  • Daniela Scarcella told us about her PhD project, which represents an interdisciplinary engagement between translation studies and radio studies. She observed that Felix’s claim that interdisciplinarity produces a ‘third space’, was pertinent as she often felt that her work does not fit neatly into either of her constituent disciplines. However, rather than seeing this as a drawback, she positively embraces the idea that one’s own form of knowledge is unique and not structured by institutional categories. The group discussed the possibility of designing exercises that engage the two areas of her study, similar to those Felix has used in his project.
  • Angela Tarantini echoed Daniela’s thought and mentioned some educational initiatives in primary and secondary education where the idea of the ‘discipline’ has been eliminated from the syllabus, and is replaced by an interlinked domain of ‘knowledge’. Angela suggested that this radical departure from disciplinary thinking could represent a way forward in higher education also.

Coming up

We are looking forward to our next MITN postgraduate and early career researcher event (date TBC), which will take the form of participant presentations and group discussion. Its aim will be to build on our newly-formed research clusters, introducing their designated facilitators, and it will offer the opportunity to discuss possible directions for future projects. We encourage all who are interested to attend, and if you would like to propose ideas for research clusters or projects, please contact Jessica (Jessica.trevitt@monash.edu) or Gioia (G.Panzarella@warwick.ac.uk).


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