I met with Stephanie today and showed her “my paragraph.” I finally managed to get my dissertation topic into less than 300 words, and it feels fantastic! You might’ve read my other post on Collaboration and Identity, and this topic is something close to that. Obviously there are ambiguities in this paragraph; it’s an introduction, and it will take an entire dissertation to explain. I need to tweak the paragraph a bit, but here it is in its rough glory:
I am proposing to conduct a qualitative study that focuses on participants of interdisciplinary collaborations where the collaborations are designed to a) encourage team science and b) marshal practices from multiple disciplines to address problems too large and/or complicated for a single discipline to solve. The emphasis will be on understanding how a research community changes its practices when collaborating with participants from one or more different communities. I employ an understanding of practice from Wenger — practice connotes a repertoire of resources for accomplishing work; it includes experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems (Wenger, 1999). I contend that a community’s practices, the way it thinks of itself, and the way it thinks of other communities influence 1) its adoption of innovations and 2) its collaborations with other communities. It is also important to consider the nature of the work involved, the funding mechanisms supporting the collaboration, and a community’s prior experience in collaborations. Funding agencies and experts have highlighted team science as a high priority, and even called it a scientific necessity (“Who’d want to work in a team? [editorial]”, 2003); the push in team science provides interesting opportunities for studying this kind of interdisciplinary, distributed collaboration. My study will provide insight into how a community’s sense of itself, its practices, and its sense of others affect collaboration so that we may be better equipped to encourage successful collaboration. The research will incorporate in-depth interviews with members of two interdisciplinary collaborations (one in biomedical research and one in civil engineering), observations of their work (both independent and collaborative), and analysis of the funding and policy mechanisms supporting these collaborations.