My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Interdisciplinarity: Science and Art

Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence is one of many courses offered through the UCL graduate school skills development programme. I have so far been to three of the sessions in the series, on being a general session on interdisciplinarity, and the other two on evidence in statistics and computer modelling.

Late last month I went to another session in the series: Using Science to Understand Art: Contexts and Communication. It’s taken me quite some time to get round to writing about it. This is not only because I have been busy, but because I needed time to think about what was said.

During the course, Ruth Siddall, the course tutor, spoke about her experience as a geologist working with people in museums (arts). Her research interests deal with the identification of pigments, minerals, mortars and rocks. She spoke about how her skills as a geologist have come in useful in her work, but at the same time, how she needed to adapt to communicate with people in a different field.

However, something she was saying wasn’t sounding quite right to me, at least in the way I am experiencing interdisciplinarity in my work. Something felt jarring, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time. I am still not sure I do! However, I think it has very much to do with how she views herself and how I am encouraged to view myself in my work.

She constantly referred to herself as a scientist (geologist) working with people in the arts. She quite readily and clearly identified herself with the field she has a strong background in: geology. Something which has been niggling me about the way I am encouraged to view myself is that there is a strong desire to see me describe myself as a ‘heritage scientist’ (with the caveat that ‘heritage’ is not an adjective describing the noun ‘scientist’). However, my only background in ‘heritage science’ is that I am working within the field whilst frantically scrabbling around to try to grasp at numerous strands of knowledge I feel are important. Is that enough?

Also, what does being a ‘heritage scientist’ mean in practice? What should I consider to be my strong point? Should it be the science? Or should it be the heritage field? I strongly suspect that the suggestion is that I should consider both to be a strong point. But where does that leave me? It leaves me pretty much falling into nothingness…or does it?

There is still quite a lot I feel I need to digest from that session and from everything I have been absorbing and feeling throughout my PhD. The session pushed me into thinking about things more coherently and systematically. That surely can only be a good thing. People say that a PhD is a journey, and I feel that this is an important part of my journey that I need to come to grips with.


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Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence

Yesterday I attended another of the graduate school skills development course. This time round it was called: Interdisciplinarity: can there be an integrated concept of evidence, which was the last of a series of courses on Interdisciplinary studies of evidence.

Why did I decided to attend? Well, my PhD is very much an interdisciplinary, bringing together aspects of the sciences and social sciences and humanities. As I implied in my previous post, I am finding some difficulties in determining how best to present my work to a panel of people from different backgrounds, and so thought that this would be a good course to follow. Also, I thought it would help me concretise better my thoughts on bringing together evidence from different fields (often with different vocabularies and expectances) and presenting as a complete project rather than disjointed parts.

The programme was presented by Jason Davies, from CALT. Entering the room (which was not the easiest thing to find ;)), I found a room with around 20 people. I was expecting the group to be much bigger, but I am glad it was such a small group. This gave us the opportunity to discuss the issues being presented (which the presenter gladly allowed us to do), and to get the most out of the session. The session got us thinking about what interdisciplinarity means, and how this affects our work and especially our way of thinking.

Overall assessment? I went into the course expecting some answers. Unfortunately(?) I didn’t get any, but what I did get was a deeper understanding and a more concrete idea of what interdisciplinarity means both to me and to my work. Also, it gave me the opportunity to discuss issues with my work, as well as hear about the issues others, which are more advanced in their studies, are encountering. So though I didn’t get what I went looking for, I think I got so much more. A success then I would say 🙂

Interdisciplinarity: An Issue

Interdisciplinarity: An Issue

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