Learning from Interdisciplinary Research

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“Come up with a research proposal where everyone in the group can contribute a part of their expertise.” After hearing those words, my first thought was that was, quite simply, not possible. What topic could seven people studying seven completely different fields research together? How could we blend chemistry, biology, and math with political science, English literature, and philosophy?

I was skeptical at the beginning that this would work, but everyone brought a unique perspective of potential research problems, their causes, and how to approach research. If anything, the interdisciplinary aspect revealed a lot of options for how to approach the chosen problem. Things that I never would have thought of and methodologies that were foreign to me became cutting edge approaches for the ideas we were examining.

We began by brainstorming answers to the prompt: “What are barriers to access of higher education?” A plethora of possibilities ensued. Coming from different home lives and different departments at Pitt allowed each team member to have a unique take on this question. In the end, we settled on a shared and extremely relevant experience: remote learning. With the onset of COVID19 pushing students out of the classroom, we each experienced difficulty. Wifi struggles, being an essential worker, sickness or death of a loved one, and completing curriculum from a chaotic home environment were all things that my peers and I either dealt with directly, or heard about from friends. So, we decided to focus our project on identifying what factors presented the biggest challenges to success for Pitt student’s remote learning. Furthermore, we wanted to  investigate how those factors might relate to location, economic status, race, etc. Our project was named “Remote Possibilities: Factors that Influence Access to Higher Education.”

The completion of this project solidified my belief that working with people who have different backgrounds and experiences is a real strength. Everyone in my group considered the problem at hand through a different lens and was able to provide insight and expertise accordingly. Moving forward, I’m hoping that the different perspectives my peers exposed me to can be applied to my own research.  

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