March 05, 2010

Challenges in interdisciplinary research

I attended a very insightful workshop, organised by Institute of Advanced Studies in Warwick. The two speakers of the workshop were Dr Camille Kandiko, whom I met in a conference last year in Oxford, and Prof Margaret Jacob, a visiting fellow from UCLA. Thanks to Chris and Deborah who ran the workshop, I managed to externalise some of the findings of my doctoral research to people who faced similar challenges about interdisciplinary research but under different contexts.

Camille pointed five career options for being interdisciplinary:

1.    Follow disciplinary career, be interdisciplinary later on.

2.    Stay housed within a traditional discipline, pursue interdisciplinary career through teaching and/or research.

3.    Join an applied or related field

4.    Find an interdisciplinary home (e.g. centres, subject-based departments, etc)

5.    Pursue work in an alternative academic career.

I highlighted the set of skills required to be a world class professional—the skills to work or handle problems immediately to a situation, which proposed by Kenichi Ohmae. This set of skills includes problem solving, money management, and multi-lingual skills. Multi-lingual skill is particularly important in the context of interdisciplinary research, in which the notion of language here means the professional terminologies and disciplinary-oriented communication styles used in specific field of study.

Talking about the dividing the credits of research outcomes, Camille mentioned that in some situations, a single interdisciplinary study could be written by the same author using different “languages” and published in journals of different disciplines. As for the issue regarding authorship, Margaret suggested to follow existing rubrics or conventions which are field-specific—thus leads to the loop of unsolved issue. My suggestion is to be realistic and tolerant.

During the group discussion, David who was looking for strategies for collaboration like me, highlighted the different nature of participants: people who are doing interdisciplinary research at their own or without collaboration, and people who are doing collaboration across different disciplines. Another form is to study interdisciplinary as a subject in itself, which is what Camille doing as her research.

Margaret who led an interdisciplinary project, studying issues related to “pain” in the USA, worked with medical doctors, historians, psychologists and social scientists. She defined the roles and formed her team which conducted the research using a pragmatic approach. Quantitative data were collected and analysed by medical experts and psychologists; while qualitative data were gathered through interviews and narrative texts coding by historians and social scientists. This seems to me that to lead or even just to join an interdisciplinary project, one has to be well verse in and appreciate the epistemological positioning of various disciplines. 

Prior to my participation, I submitted a paragraph of writing about the issue relevant to my research which I would like to be discussed in the workshop, herewith what I wrote:

My research is interdisciplinary in nature, as I am comparing the views among academics and practitioners in creative industry on the use of games in education. This nature prompted me to think about the need to identify, justify and evaluate the potential of interdisciplinary research and collaboration. One issue I found along this thinking process is the challenge of decision making--whether to adopt or adapt disciplines that I am not familiar with, i.e. those fall beyond my comfort zone. So what are the strategies that I could use to make more informed and beneficial decisions in those situations?

In the discussion, I shared my preliminary research findings, which are three strategies for collaboration between academics and non-academics. These strategies will be available in my thesis or my upcoming writings. Email me if you are interested to know more about them.

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