Interdisciplinary = Greater than the Sum of its Parts

Over the past few weeks, we were exposed to the prospect of interdisciplinary research. Because my own project is focused in one field of discipline, it was nice to work with other researchers for a different subject matter, consciously uniting our various backgrounds to tackle an issue related to higher education accessibility or inequality. My group chose to pursue issues of accessibility and inequality within the remote learning environment that universities have transitioned to during the current pandemic.

To be sure, the project proposals we put together were not experiences in actually conducting interdisciplinary research, but they gave us a sneak peek into what goes on during the real process. You might say putting a project proposal together is itself a key part of conducting research since defining crucial elements like the research problem, purpose, significance, methods, and resources are necessary to their execution. However, I still think working on the (hypothetical) proposals alone was as thought-provoking as it was frustrating (in a good way) simply because we were unable to follow through with the plan we put together.

This is an obvious point to any research subject: once you’re involved with a part of it, or you finish one project, then you’re hooked for doing another. At least, I think this is true for people who want to do research because they have a certain passion and an insatiable curiosity. All the fellows in the Brackenridge program, for example, had to sign on knowing they had an idea seriously worth pursuing. And as the robust network of Brackenridge alumni shows, the research skills gained from independent study and interdisciplinary cooperation become foundational to our later interests. Even more obvious: Academia consists of people who spend the majority of their time researching topics they care about, and the community they form attempts to draw their best efforts into the public sphere. All those professors and PIs wouldn’t continue in their line of work if they didn’t think it had a kind of thrill. Let’s face it: Research is like a socially acceptable addiction, and I think the biggest takeaway I had from the past couple weeks working with my group on the Ideathon was sort of like drinking the first cup of interdisciplinary research coffee.

Since we’re all a little addicted to our separate research topics, coming together to look at another one wasn’t a totally novel experience. But it was definitely an additional thrill to know everyone was coming to work on the same thing even just for the first steps of the research process. Check out what we put together below!

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