Skills needed for Multidisciplinary Research
As we, as a society, progress in how our thinking and technology develops, the problems and questions that arise become more complex. No longer can we silo information into certain disciplines – it has become more important than ever to work with colleagues from adjacent, and sometimes, completely different fields to tackle pressing issues. In this article, we discuss how to approach working in this way and also the skills (especially soft skills) needed to extract the most value from inter- and multidisciplinary research collaborations.
Share key aspects of your discipline with each other
Be mindful of the fact that you are likely to collaborate with people with diverse expertise. This means that you may be talking to someone who is an international expert in a particular issue, but that subject may be wildly different from your field of study. So, giving each other primers in aspects of your discipline that are relevant to the project is a helpful first step to a fruitful collaboration.
Communicate in lay language
When discussing each other’s research and in general, using lay language and only necessary jargon is the best way to communicate with your collaborator(s). Keep in mind the end goal of your project, rather than minutiae that come up as you go. This will help you overcome potential language barriers, as your collaborators may be from diverse geographies and backgrounds. This will also develop your skills for communicating with the wider public, who are not as well versed as you in your field of study.
Choose broader thinking instead of laser focus
A multidisciplinary research project usually exists to solve larger scale issues, for example when considering the societal impact of a medical phenomenon, or the impact of a change in manufacturing processes on a biological product. It is therefore useful to step away from what is likely to be a very focussed approach, and to think bigger than your niche.
Not only does this broader thinking help to progress the project, but it is also a fantastically enriching experience, dragging you out of your specialty’s bubble into a wider, more applied frame of mind. It opens you up to creatively thinking about your field, and could inspire novel ideas for further research projects and approaches.
One of the most important aspects of multidisciplinary work is that researchers from diverse backgrounds and fields are gathered to tackle a single piece of research so that each represented field can help shape the research direction. Therefore it is crucial that as an expert in your field, you are ready to listen to and accept the views of researchers from other fields, and make sure that your own research ambitions align with the overall goal(s) of the project.
Academic research is becoming increasingly multidisciplinary, making it more important than ever to develop communication and teamworking skills needed for successful collaborations. It all comes down to finding ways to communicate your expertise as clearly as possible for others to understand and work with, as well as being open to new ideas.
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