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Student POV: Interdisciplinarity in Seven Steps

  • December 20, 2013
  • By a2ru      
A foray into a new discipline can help you to develop a versatile skill set that will give you an added boost during the dissertation process.


Emily VanBuren, a PhD student in History at Northwestern University, has a seven point strategy when it comes to working in an interdisciplinary setting. She uses the initial encounter between Watson and Holmes to illustrate her point of view, which is based on experience as a graduate student. “Like Watson, I’ve found myself trying to figure out what it is that my colleagues in other fields do.” says VanBuren.

The seven points are:
1. Denaturalize your own thought processes.
2. Be prepared to speak up and ask very specific questions.
3. Approach your interactions with colleagues in other fields as part of your       pedagogical training.
4. Use this experience to stock your “brain-attic.”
5. Look for the commonalities between fields that appear radically different.
6. Build a mentoring network of both professors and peers.
7. Know that this will be a humbling experience.

VanBuren concludes, “Like the Baker Street detective, you will learn to notice things that are easily taken for granted owing to discipline-specific axioms and expectations. And if you stick with it, the gnawing worry that you will never be able to think like your colleagues in other fields will subside, because you will learn to pull apart the components of their thinking and yours, identifying similarities and differences.”

Image of Crepe Myrtle Star by Jessica Lucia via Creative Commons/Flickr

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