Straddling a fault line: interdisciplinary research

Having spent four years doing my doctorate not really knowing which discipline I could frame my work in best I listened with interest to a presentation by Catherine Lyall this week. She talked for her experiences working in and evaluating interdisciplinary research (IDR). She used this image in her presentation which I felt a particular affinity for.


from Jorge Cham 2010 –

I used to describe my EngD project as having divorced parents. When one supervisor (or parent) didn’t really know the answer they’d suggest asking the other one! This left me caught in the middle sometimes trying to straddle what seemed like large gaps between their objectives, motivations and expectations.

It was reassuring to here this was quite common for those researchers working in multiple disciplines. Coming to the conclusion of my research however this left me with quite a dilemma of where to try to publish my research. My strategy was to write papers for alternate disciplines and submit to both buildings and design/ergonomics journals.

This approach might not help in relation to the Research Excellence Framework if you are aiming for an academic career, however in terms of highlighting the potential linkages between disciplines and sparking interest in your work it has been quite effective.

So this weekend I am finishing my final paper from my thesis aiming to submit to a journal focusing on user interactions with technical systems. Finding the motivation to write and submit a paper nearly eight months after my viva is hard, especially when you’re giving up weekend time to do it.

One thing I have realised is that no matter when you think your doctorate is finished (submission, viva, corrections, award) there is probably something you’ve still got left to do. With graduation in July I’m determined to draw a line under my research for now and move on.



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