On 19 June LIDC held its second PhD Workshop in International Development.
This half-day event aimed to build a community of Bloomsbury PhD students working on development issues; showcase students’ work; encourage participants to think of development in interdisciplinary ways; and finally – to assess and develop LIDC services for PhD students and young researchers.
Jeff Waage, Director of LIDC, opened the workshop by offering his perspectives on ‘What does interdisciplinarity mean in development research?’
Reflecting on the role of research in development interventions, Jeff said that social sciences are usually brought in at ‘the end of the pipeline’, that is at a late stage to answer the question of ‘why things have failed’. However, real interdisciplinarity begins when social and natural sciences work alongside one another at early stages to inform interventions.
According to Jeff’s experience, interdisciplinary research is undertaken for three main reasons: to solve a problem; to create a new discipline (e.g. environmental economics); and/ or to gain a new perspective. While all three are valid and all three have guided LIDC’s work, the latter is often the most important.
Each discipline constructs its own perspective of the same reality and uses different tools to analyse and understand it. The real benefit of interdisciplinarity is learning about new tools and methods used in other disciplines. This being said, there is nothing ‘wrong’ with disciplinary research (which allows scientists to become experts in their areas). It is not easy to be an interdisciplinary researcher, as it involves crossing multiple boundaries and requires a high ability to ‘tolerate ambiguity’. It is not possible (and probably not desirable either) for everyone to work in interdisciplinary ways. What LIDC is trying to do is encourage its members to occasionally venture into other disciplines, allocating just a small part of their time and attention to it.
A discussion followed, in which participants were asked to reflect on their own experience with interdisciplinary research: What were benefits; the challenges; the constraints? Some of the questions raised were about blurry boundaries between disciplines, differences between interdisciplinarity and integrative research, the drive for evidence in international development and how it affects interdisciplinarity, as well as practical aspects of being an interdisciplinary researcher, such as getting funding and career choices.
To bring interdisciplinarity to life, two guest speakers presented a case study of the Leverhulme Centre for Integrative Research on Agriculture and Health (LCIRAH), a new research group based at and supported by LIDC. Dr. Deborah Johnston, Department of Economics, SOAS, presented the rationale behind and work programme of LCIRAH, while Luke Harman, PhD candidate with LCIRAH, talked about his experience of doing an interdisciplinary PhD, co-supervised by academics from SOAS and LSHTM.
The workshop ended with a discussion of how PhD students would like to work with LIDC. Participants expressed an interest in building a community and meeting at further events, which LIDC has committed to supporting. Any PhD student working on development issues in any of the six Bloomsbury Colleges who wishes to join the group is encouraged to contact LIDC (firstname.lastname@example.org).
LIDC currently has nearly 2,500 members from across Bloomsbury Colleges, many of who are PhD students working on areas as diverse as economics, education, animal health, public health, and sociology, to name just a few.
It is a part of LIDC’s mission to contribute to the training of PhD students by exposing them to other academic disciplines and encouraging interdisciplinary thinking. In 2011 LIDC hosted the first PhD Workshop in International Development. In early 2012 LIDC ran the first ESRC Doctoral Training Centre (DTC) seminar series, engaging PhD students from across Bloomsbury Colleges in key interdisciplinary issues in development research.