Tuesday, November 26, 2013

10 Top Tips on How to Succeed in Interdisciplinary Research

Interdisciplinarity (Photo credit: romaryka)
by , Prof Serious: http://blog.prof.so/2013/11/interdisciplinary.html

Here are the @profserious tips for success in interdisciplinary research. I have done quite a bit of this, most recently in systems biology, whether successful or not, you can judge.

In any event, many of these tips are derived from observing and discussing successful interdisciplinary collaborations with my cleverer colleagues.

- Confront your fears, of mathematics, chemistry, whatever. In particular expect to feel, and occasionally look, foolish, just do not worry about it. Ask 'dumb' questions and expect them to be just that, dumb.

- Be prepared to see the odd, ridiculous or absurd sides of your own subject and to laugh at them.

- Accept that interdisciplinary collaboration has a high up-front cost and that pay back is not either immediate or even sometimes immediately evident. Do not be a tart, make a few relationships and work at them.

- Start talking about outcomes, specifically publication venues, norms and expectations, at the outset of an interdisciplinary collaboration.

- Question methodologies. Do not casually assume that differences in approach arise either for good reason or alternatively for no reason.

- Build trust, be prepared to show your skills, make yourself useful. Be ready to teach, patiently and supportively.

- Be conscious that different subjects have different 'timelines' (and particularly when working across modelling and experimental subjects). Discuss this and what it might mean for the way the work is organised.

- Build new networks, go to different conferences, expect to spend time feeling socially awkward. Leave your office, abandon the typical physical setting of your work. Drink lots of coffee. 

- Do it because you are drawn to it, intellectually compelled, not because it is a fashionable demand of funders.

- Sharpen your research with a real problem. Good work will probably not emerge from an ungrounded common room discussion that, however stimulating, is not ultimately focused, perhaps initially over-focused.
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