Professional Development Column

Professional Development: Tips for Careers in Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Research

Interdisciplinarity and collaboration are mantras for change in the 21st century, driven by the complexity of problems that require the expertise of more than one discipline and increasingly involve teams. However, individuals are often unsure about whether their interdisciplinary and collaborative work will be rewarded.

There are no magic bullets. However, two authoritative reports give you a strong foundation of definitions and best practices you can use to inform students, faculty, and administrators. Even if they offer verbal support, in many cases they have not read pertinent literature. Anchoring your work in knowledge of the literature will give you a leg up in discussions, publications, presentations, and grant applications.

• National Research Council. (2004). Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Downloadable free at

• Cooke, N. and Hilton, M. (2015). Enhancing the Effectiveness of Team Science. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Downloadable free at

Two additional tips will also help you take control of the way your work is perceived and evaluated.

First, Think Strategically About Navigating Your Career Life Cycle

Mentors are valuable resources throughout graduate study, transition to a new job, and pre-tenure and tenure review. However, they are not always available and, even if they are, aware of pertinent literature. Fortunately, Graybill and Shandas have written an excellent set of guidelines for navigating the life cycle of an interdisciplinary career that is also relevant for collaborative research.

Stage 1: Initiation includes questions for graduate students aimed at situating your scholarship, establishing a personal identity in disciplinary departments, and positioning projects for maximum benefit, and rigor and acceptability in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary contexts.

Stage 2: Familiarization includes questions for graduate students aimed at maintaining rigor and depth in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, timely completion of your Ph.D., deciding where to publish, and describing the benefits and value of interdisciplinary training to scholars in disciplinary units.

Stage 3: Adaptation includes questions for early career hires aimed at introducing and promoting a personal vision for interdisciplinarity, navigating risks for tenure and promotion, introducing new pedagogical techniques, identifying shared commitments and interests, and managing time commitments.

Stage 4: Protected Enthusiasm includes questions for early career academics aimed at representing identity as a disciplinarian and an interdisciplinarian, building new bridges or maintaining existing ones with external collaborators, challenging or changing views and practices, weighing risks pre-tenure, and handling internal and external tenure review.

Reference: Graybill, J. and. Shandas, V. (2010). “Doctoral Student and Early Career Academic Perspectives.” In R. Frodeman and C. Mitcham (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Interdisciplinarity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 404-418. Note: keep an eye out for an updated revision of this chapter in the second edition in 2016.

Second, Stay on Top of New Resources and Developments

The proliferation of publications on interdisciplinary research and team science has made it impossible to keep up with every new resource and development. However, a couple of strategies will help you stay on top of them, once again giving you a leg up when articulating the nature and importance of your work.

Set up a Google Alert
Google Alert is a free service that allows you to get email notifications on a particular topic. You can customize alerts by when and how often they arrive as well as the sources.

Search Aggregated Repositories
The [US] National Cancer Institute’s Team Science Tool Kit contains over 2,000 publications, applications, models, methods, and other materials for design, implementation, and evaluation. You can browse tools, measures, or bibliography and search by specific goals. The SciTS ListServ on Mendeley is another forum for exchange of information and resources on topics related to team science.

Join a Pertinent Interest Group
A number of organizations serve interdisciplinary and collaborative interests. In addition, the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies and the Network for Transdisciplinary Research (td-net) provide updates on new developments as well as bibliography:

See Also
Klein, J. T. (2012). “Monitoring the Interdisciplinary Career.” In Creating Interdisciplinary Campus Cultures. San Francisco: Jossey Bass and AACU. 127-151. An overview of hiring, tenure and promotion, and faculty development. Be sure to update using the Team Science Toolkit since related publications are forthcoming.

Lyall, C., Bruce, A., Tait, J., and Meagher, L. (2011). “Charting a Course for an Interdisciplinary Career.” Interdisciplinary Research Journeys: Practical Strategies for Capturing Creativity. London, Bloomsbury Academic. 103-26. Individual chapters viewable free here.

Julie Thompson Klein is Professor of Humanities Emerita in the English Department and Faculty Fellow for Interdisciplinary Development at Wayne State University

 The Fine Art of Authentic Self Promotion
By Kendall Soucie
July 2015

Academic self-promotion, for better or for worse, has become an integral part of building a successful academic career. The expansive growth of the use of citation indices being used by hiring committees, tenure and promotion committees, and in merit reviews has changed the old academic adage of "publish or perish" to "publish AND make a splash or perish". Getting your work cited means that your work is recognized, and that invariably leads to the need to market yourself. Sometimes it feels like 20% your time is spent doing your research, and the other 80% is spent explaining to the rest of the academic world why your research is valuable, innovative, groundbreaking, and (most importantly) should be funded!

Does self-promotion mean that you have to be “that person”; you know, the one who causes a Pavlovian eye-rolling response at the mention of his or her name? That person who seems to spend most of everyday “bragplaining” on every social media outlet available that they "can’t believe they just got another grant, which they don’t have time for, because they already have 6 grants". Or, that person who equates social interaction to a perseverant recitation of their C.V. While nobody wants to be that person, self-promotion is a double-edged sword. The academic wallflower, waiting for someone to notice their work, is headed down a path of academic spinsterhood. No one will ask you to dance, so you have to polish those dancing shoes, and bust a move. So, the million dollar (or at least please give me tenure) question is... how do you avoid academic spinsterhood without turning into “that person”?

Here are a few quick and easy guidelines:
1) Market It!: despite the utopian ideals of pure intellectual pursuits of seeking knowledge for the sake of knowledge, Universities have become a marketplace and academic “deliverables” are the currency. Here is a corporate analogy. If a company makes the most amazing product ever known to humankind, but fails to market it effectively, that company will go out of business, and the world will not benefit from its product, no matter how great it was. If you are passionate about your work, and you believe that your research has value, then you need to market it and sell it or you might end up doing your valuable work in your parents' basement! Harsh, I know, but this can be the reality. Many of us, especially women, have been socialized to downplay their successes. Women are afraid to come across to the academic community as a narcissistic primadonna. But, remember, this is about your research, and not about you as a person. Just like any business transaction, whether negotiating a salary, asking for research support, or space, going up for tenure or promotions, you are making a sales pitch! If this institution invests in you, then it will get a substantial return on that investment. Highlighting your skills and accomplishments shows why that institution should invest in you. Don’t be shy or feel bad about it. What would you think if someone tried to sell you a car and their sales pitch was “well, it is ok as far as cars go, but it isn’t really special, and I am sorry to trouble you by asking you to consider it”?

2) Make it about the work: Yes, you need to market your research, but think about your marking strategy as a public service announcement rather than a "Harry's discount dollar days" when you are strategizing about how to best promote your work. When someone says "tell me about your work", refrain from giving a laundry list of the grants and publications that you have under review. Talk about and explain what you are actually studying. Paint a picture of why you are so passionate about it. There is a huge difference between being excited and explaining your research to a colleague and reciting a citation index.

3) Remember it is not a zero sum game: Celebrate the accomplishments of your colleagues. The more recognition and funding your field gets, the more recognition and funding there is to support your work. Science is a community effort and recognizing the contributions of your colleagues builds collaborative relationships, supportive friendships, inspiring partnerships and sparks creativity and innovation.

4) Finding the digital needle in an information hay stack: One of the biggest reasons for the need to promote and market your research is that we all live in a world completely inundated with information. Just for fun type your area of research in Google and see how many tens of thousands of links come up. The modern library is not housed inside of brick and mortar; it floats in a digital cloud, and your contribution is a tiny speck of that massive ethersphere. Make it a priority to learn to effectively use social media and devote at least a couple of hours a week managing your “social media presence”. There are a lot of fantastic resources available for managing social media and making sure your work is available for others to access easily. Remember, every major company has an entire division devoted to social media management, and has developed tools and strategies to make managing social media and brand awareness efficient and effective.

Here are some useful links to resources and perspectives on the art of self-promotion:

Kendall Soucie is Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, ON