Tips & Tricks

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

There’s nothing more useful than a listicle to end this interdisciplinarity guide. We have condensed the top 10 tips and tricks from our many interviews:

  1. Convey your interdisciplinary message well by explaining and perhaps even repeating explanations. Always merge the general and the particular: what are the specifics of your work, and how does it generalize? This may help readers from various fields latch on to the work.
  2. In a meeting, especially with academics outside your field, don’t shy away from signaling that you do not know a particular term or that you cannot follow their reasoning.
  3. Identify target journals to publish in beforehand to figure out what assumptions need to be spelled out for which audiences.
  4. Actively find and surround yourself with mentors from different fields, and find a community or smaller network of people interested in similar topics at the crossroads of disciplines. Help this community grow.
  5. Attend conferences on different specializations.
  6. Teach a course that falls outside your own specialization.
  7. Particularly for students: proactively ask your supervisors for meetings, for input, etc., instead of assuming that the initiative will come from them.
  8. Particularly for PhD advisors to students working on an interdisciplinary project: agree on the sequence of who gives feedback first and who builds on that feedback, and how.
  9. Particularly for students: have courage and feel that it is safe to act as an ‘educator’ for those advisors on the team who are not experts.
  10. When it comes to writing interdisciplinary grants, Els den Os offered a selection of useful tips. She pointed out that grant applications for interdisciplinary projects are particularly troublesome in the individual grant schemes, such as NWO’s Veni/Vidi/Vici, and to a lesser extent in the individual grant programmes of the European Commission. In these cases, your project could receive conflicting review reports (due to the reviewers’ different disciplinary backgrounds), which is often considered unfavorably by evaluation committees. So:
    • Take the wind out of critics’ sails! Position your project explicitly as tapping into more than one discipline. This will help you rebuff potential criticism from reviewers when they argue that the approach or methodology deviates from disciplinary standards.
    • Argue for the necessity of an interdisciplinary approach; show how the central problem in your project can only be solved by working in and between different research traditions.
    • Concretely indicate how proposed research will realize the interdisciplinary promise of the project. For instance, if you (as the principal investigator) lack the necessary background for one of the project’s components, recruit an experienced researcher (e.g., a Postdoc instead of a PhD candidate) to tackle that portion of the project.
    • Explain your concepts. Don’t presume that they are understood in the same way within other disciplines. Assuming that others have the same background knowledge as you do is called ‘the curse of knowledge’.
    • Be strategic about the keywords you choose for the project when submitting your proposal. In doing so, you will increase the chances that your project will be assessed by suitable reviewers. Check which publications and researchers pop up when you enter your keywords in Google (Scholar).
theme

Interdisciplinarity Beyond the Buzzword

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

System: What is the influence of funding, publishing and promotion?

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

All academics are embedded within an academic landscape. Unfortunately, most of our interviewees are concerned the current academic landscape prompts most researchers to shy away from interdisciplinary research.

Education: How and why should we train students and researchers in interdisciplinary ways?

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

Integrating interdisciplinary aspects into teaching – or even offering a fully interdisciplinary programme – has the potential to bring several benefits to students. It also brings with it a set of challenges.

Community: How do interdisciplinary communities and collaborations succeed?

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

This article underlines the importance of selecting team members based on their willingness to be vulnerable regarding (the limits of) their knowledge; their genuine interest in other fields can hardly be underestimated.

Goal: When is interdisciplinarity necessary or of added value?

A Guide to Academic Work Across Disciplines

‘Interdisciplinarity’ has become a ubiquitous academic buzzword. Given this often unquestioned enthusiasm, one should ask a set of basic questions.