University of Minnesota

Building interdisciplinary training through interdepartmental collaborations

The University of Minnesota–SSRC Interdisciplinary Dissertation Proposal Development (IDPD) Program is hosted by its Institute for Advanced Study (IAS). The program seeks to institutionalize and sustain interdisciplinary training as part of the university’s graduate education through collaboration between clusters of disciplinary departments. To determine how to overcome structural, financial, and intellectual barriers that have hindered past interdisciplinary efforts, the program will convene a Sustainability Work Group comprised of department chairs, directors of graduate study, and faculty across the humanities and social sciences.

The IDPD program’s development will also benefit from access to additional university resources including IAS collaborative groups, digital scholarship, editorial advice, preparation for non-academic careers, and activities with other interdisciplinary researchers. Through collaboration with the University Libraries’ Digital Arts, Sciences, and Humanities program and the College of Liberal Arts’ technology and information services, the program will also develop training modules to support interdisciplinary teaching and advising by faculty both within and outside the university.

The IDPD Program will consist of three main components:

    1. A multi-day May-term workshop to review students’ initial proposals;
    2. Summer exploratory research; and
    3. A fall semester-long seminar on proposal development, grant writing, and professionalization.

Program Cycle:
Beginning in spring 2018, participating students from a number of departments will prepare preliminary proposals and then engage in an intensive workshop aimed at helping them to refine the fit between their research questions and methodologies. Students will also discuss their projects’ connections between theory and method and consider how their approaches reflect their disciplines’ different epistemologies. They will consider how underrepresented and global perspectives might inform their research. These workshop discussions are expected to establish a peer-to-peer support infrastructure upon which they can rely upon throughout their dissertation process.

During the summer, as the students carry out exploratory research, they will also share reports on their progress and prepare revised research proposals.

During the fall seminar they will discuss their summer research, engage in peer critique, and revise their proposals into final versions that they can submit to funding agencies. They will then turn to related topics such as writing habits, drafting and submitting conference papers, networking, using digital tools, and developing other professional skills. The following spring, IAS may organize voluntary faculty-student reading and writing groups that will enable students to continue exploring interdisciplinary aspects of their projects should they wish.

Faculty Engagement:
Faculty leaders and trainers will meet regularly with other members of the Sustainability Work Group to plan, build, and manage cross-departmental participation and support for the program. The program leaders will recruit additional faculty from social science and humanities disciplines to serve as workshop and seminar trainers. Additionally, the program will seek to spread knowledge of their approach to training to faculty members at other universities, such as those within the Big Ten Academic Alliance, through in-person and virtual symposia on graduate student advising, including how to help students with interdisciplinary projects navigate the disciplinary landscape.

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