We’re all three-weeks-in on the grand adventure of the 2020 Brackenridge Summer Research Fellowship, and I’m proud to belong to a cohort now calling itself the “Cannon Crew”! The entire fellowship will surely end up remiss if our cohort’s Ideathon proposal doesn’t also incorporate a topic with cannons…
As a disclaimer, the lockdown-induced cabin fever has made me feel a lot more confident opening my blog posts with scrapped one-liners from my standup gig. So if you’re still reading, thanks for tolerating that!
Garbage jokes aside, it’s been super exciting to read everyone’s introductory blog posts. Connecting with my cohort was especially nice and I look forward to collaborative venting sessions in our digital-coffeeshop zoom calls. In case you didn’t get to read the past blog posts from our members: Sarah and Mikayla are diving into complex notions like death and mental illness in literature; Emmaline and Mark are working to dissect the data from social media interactions and particle transitions; Kailen and Junyi are unraveling pressing clinical issues including post-treatment care for cancer patients and mitigation strategies for ADHD; and, finally, Gray and Melanie are explicating the complexities of the human condition through creative venues, specifically for their personal and their families’ experiences within the Asian American and Acadian communities. These little summaries do no justice to the real depth and ambition respective to each project, so definitely revisit their own explanations in the first round of blog posts!
I look forward to more interdisciplinary communication within and across the cohorts throughout the fellowship. It’s been interesting to see everyone discuss the benefits of putting talented researchers from different disciplines together: I think it’s fair to say the goal of conducting and presenting research in this type of environment is to help everyone improve such crucial skills. It also seems evident that the most obvious method of delivering on that goal is by each individual scholar refining their own ideas and style of communication. However, I think there are some important ways we achieve the goal of interdisciplinary research aside from this one, which seems most obvious.
When you discuss your project with another researcher, especially one from a different academic discipline, you’re forced to rethink your own project’s scope, its background within a larger field of study, the importance of completing such research for experts and lay people, and a thousand other aspects all the while including, of course, how to get your listener to understand what you’re saying with whatever level of experience they have for the subject matter. You often end up reformulating certain facts or stories to fit the audience, even if you’ve practiced delivering the same snapshot summary several times over; you could say talking like this means rethinking things right on the spot.
Now consider the fact that the person listening and responding to you does all these things as well when they start communicating their research to you. You’re listening to them go through the same thoughtful process. It doesn’t matter how long or short these conversations are: each time involves rethinking your own research with someone else and doing likewise with them for their own course of study. And every time you follow along with your peer’s summary, you’re trying to follow their own thinking process through the thousand aspects that inevitably make communicating difficult.
(As a comedic interlude, I just want to say that I don’t actually have a standup gig. You probably also thought to yourself, “He said one-liner even though that opening joke was two sentences. How pathetic!” Rest assured, I realize this, and you are absolutely right.)
Putting the situation this way seems to suggest the act of listening to other people talk about their research is just as a much a communication skill as presenting your own. Thoughtfully following their ideas and stream of consciousness involves the same attempt at reimagining things, but this time about something you don’t know and from another person’s point of view. Some philosophers like Hegel and Emmanuel Levinas have argued this sort of socially reciprocal process is how we create the self. The analogy here with communicating scholarly work doesn’t seem that forced to me.
If anything, there seems to be a third process of communication that pulls each speaker and listener together to create something distinct: the conversation itself! Once you start asking each other questions, the discussion can lead in a million different directions, many of which you may have never thought of during all those isolated hours thinking to yourself. So not only do talking about and listening to research equal more than two skills (as my Cannon Colleague Junyi might say), they help to develop a third skill, something entirely new, which is navigating through the bends and turns of good conversation.
Many people have also mentioned the difficulties in trying to communicate with people from different fields, but I agree with them that the challenge is better understood as an opportunity – an opportunity to cultivate skills like presenting, listening, and discussing. I look forward to strengthening these skills with everybody throughout the summer and hopefully beyond!