Yesterday I finally received my computer at my desk in the office I share with other PhD researchers. I noticed it after the library decided to close early and I thought I would try my luck. Turns out it was installed that morning. It was around 1830 hrs when I sat down at the piece of equipment. I was so thrilled at the sight of it that I remember exclaiming ‘it’s here!’ like that long-awaited-for parcel. I left the office at 0000 hrs.
I started my PhD a month and a half ago. I didn’t realise how important it would be to just have a seat and a computer at the table. My situation is somewhat odd. I am a social scientist registered under a natural science department. I know that interdisciplinary research is considered the next best thing in the academic turn, but this situation is different from the norm of having a natural scientist in a social science space. I know we cannot include architecture as a natural science, but it is a rather technical art degree. The inclusion of people with this background into say cultural geography is not new. Another trend I have often seen is Chemists engaged in the social sciences – my favourite undergraduate teacher had a degree in it and my supervisor for my PhD did their PhD in chemistry. That is a great thing. However, I must say it feels a little weird to be in the opposite situation.
This isn’t the first time I have been in this topsy-turvy form of ‘interdisciplinary’ situations. I undertook a diploma in Forensic Science alongside my degree in Sociology, and was the only social science student in the class (psychologist don’t see themselves as being of the social sciences). I ended up doing very well in this course; I was excited to work within a situation where I could see cause and effect immediately. Blood splattered at an angle tells you its point of origin. How simple, yet brilliant? Anyway, being part of interdisciplinary research may sometimes feel isolating for your thinking process. Even though the people around are very friendly, there is only so much you can chat about. Which is why I think some of these little steps have helped me:
- Being a part of an interesting academic network
- Speaking to people who seem interested in your project – this is called “networking” in business speak.
- Re-affirming your position by engaging with opposing perspectives
- Challenge your position by looking at different ways in which people address your research/interest areas
- Meet people from other departments for coffee chats
- Anyone one else you know? Meet them for coffee!
- Don’t think that the people around you cannot be engaged to discuss your perspectives – speaking to a non-specialist audience is seen as important. Natural scientists classify as this audience when speaking about social sciences, something we all forget!
- Don’t take too much work on at once – remember your project!
- Don’t let the admin team get you down with their incompetence (sorry not sorry)
I do feel I put myself at risk of not focusing on my research. Always make sure your work has some semblance of relevance to what you are studying. This can help recover any lost enthusiasm.
If nothing, these are notes to myself. A reflective journal is definitely helpful and here’s a first.