The Value of Interdisciplinary Research

Before working on the UHC Ideathon proposal for the Brackenridge Fellowship, I had only worked on research proposals with collaborators in the same research lab as me. We all approached the research problem from similar viewpoints due to our shared academic and research background. Thus, when we were discussing the technical aspects of the proposal, we understood each other and the ideas we were putting forth.

This was not the case for the Ideathon proposal. My team’s proposal tackles a systematic problem that exists in all departments at Pitt: due to the COVID-19 pandemic many students can no longer access various resources that are meant to help students gain the skills and knowledge expected of them upon graduation, which reduces the quality of education that these students experience. This issue can be addressed by providing students across disciplines with the resources they need to succeed and implementing them in a virtual classroom setting through independent project-based learning. Therefore, our proposal requires the expertise of student researchers in all departments to determine which resources would be best to incorporate when testing the effectiveness of this novel course format.

When conducting interdisciplinary research such as this, there are many times when you will not have the knowledge base needed to create and understand part of a research proposal. You have to acknowledge that other researchers on your team are more knowledgeable about topics related to their fields and trust that they know how to apply and adjust the components of the proposal to suit those fields.

After meeting several times with my Ideathon team, I have come to appreciate how our different backgrounds allow us to view our proposal through divergent lenses. When we had our first brainstorming session, each team member discussed what resources are vital to student success in our respective departments and how COVID-19 had reduced access and use of those resources. I would never have thought about many of the resources they mentioned on my own, since they did not have an impact on me. However, they evidently had a huge impact on their lives and the lives of other students in their fields.

In addition, there have been several times where I thought I had looked at our proposal from all angles, but one of the other members pointed out something that I missed related to their field expertise. The input of scholars with various research backgrounds made our research proposal stronger and helped ensure that our audience comprised of faculty with diverse research backgrounds would be able to see how our proposal applies to their departments.

As a result of this proposal, I have realized the value of welcoming input from researchers in other disciplines. Even if they do not understand the technical aspects of the research, they can point out shortcomings or possible future directions that you were unaware of. I am extremely grateful for the connections I have made with the other Brackenridge fellows and I know that in the future if I need someone to critique my work or bounce ideas off of, I have a group of inventive, hard-working, and supportive colleagues to do just that.

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