On interdisciplinarity

7 Tips on Being Interdisciplinary (Emily VanBuren, Inside Higher Ed, 23 September 2013)

  1. Denaturalise 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

(And as one commentator pointed out, 8. Be prepared to get zero respect from disciplinarians. :D)

When I speak to students about the why and how of a literature review, I always turn to the metaphor of being at a fancy dinner party. Even before coming to know Burke’s Parlor, to my mind, a literature review is all about having a diachronic conversation with preceding authors. Well, imaginary conversations are indeed my forte.

Last Friday, after a class, I ended up having a chat with a new PhD student about extra challenges that she felt she faced in her literature review while pursuing to become an interdisciplinary scholar. She took on my metaphor and beautifully extended it by saying: “I think I want to create a new dinner table instead.” My heart sang, unsurprisingly.

… I really must finish up the interdisciplinarity paper soon.


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