Interdisciplinarity: How to catalyse collaboration


This “Remarkable Resource” is taken from the Dec 2019 #happyacademic newsletter.

Source Article: (2015) By RR Brown, A Deletic & THF Wong, “Nature” 525, 315–317 [LINK]

We hear lot’s about collaboration in academic work, particularly across boundaries like disciplines or countries. Yet too many collaborations in academic work are tokenistic or impoverished: they lack the commitment and complexity of true collaboration. The authors of this short article draw on their experiences building a collaboration across the biophysical and social sciences in the field of sustainability.

Key Messages

The biophysical researchers tended to accuse the social scientists of being poor scientists, overly distracted by theory, or indulgent in their focus on conceptualization over problem-solving. The social scientists conversely perceived the biophysical researchers as being too pragmatic and reductionist.

Collaborations almost always involved difference: in personality, in foci, in skills and background. This can result in both tension and also immense creative potential. It’s our differences that can make us weak or strong.

Successful collaboration needs a shared vision and a healthy awareness of the contribution of your own discipline but also it’s limitations compared to other fields. Open questioning and discussion between collaborators is key – as is a context that catalyzes and supports unusual and cutting-edge collaborations.

Key Applications

  • Being too critical of others, self-contained or self-confident is common in academic workers but can kill collaboration. Try to be more open about the limitations of yourself and your discipline. Consider frankly the aspects of your academic work that you struggle with most or are most weak around. Identify what disciplines or people could contribute to this part of your work being better. How can you build more collaborative connections with new people? What are you going to do about this in 2020?
  • Trust is a key part of a successful collaboration but is built on a complex mix of positive experiences, vulnerability and mutual respect and commitment. For your existing or potential collaborators, into the New Year, how will you show gratitude and grow your collaborations into deeper and more meaningful work? What will your new 2020 priorities be?

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