1+1=3? Making an interdisciplinary project work

Many calls for grant proposals demand an interdisciplinary project, for example to tackle a specific societal challenge. But how do you ensure that your proposal includes all correct disciplines in a meaningful way? And what does it mean to lead a consortium with all these different experts you don’t usually talk to?

Interdisciplinary research

More than a buzzword

The fact that interdisciplinarity is mentioned in many funding programmes, doesn’t mean this is ‘just another buzzword’. Actually, bringing together researchers from different backgrounds often makes your proposal stronger and better geared to achieve the desired impact. A key example is the inclusion of researchers from social sciences and humanities in health research. To ensure that results from, e.g., biological research actually will be used after your project ends, you’ll need an understanding of human behaviour (Do people want to use it? Will they be able to use it correctly?), economics (Will it be cost-effective? Who should pay?), communication science (How do we stimulate enthusiasm and address potential concerns?), and much more. And you’ll need this input already during the project to work towards a feasible, acceptable, and implementable solution. Thus, it is worth your time and effort to think about the broader context of your idea and define other disciplines that might be relevant for your proposal.

Finding researchers from other disciplines

“Where do I find the right people to join my consortium?” This is a common question, especially if you’re looking for people outside your own field of expertise. Making use of your own network is always a first step. Just ask people around you, especially those that have worked in larger projects before, whether they can recommend anyone with the specific skillset you need. If they mention names, don’t forget to also ask about the collaboration itself: did this person deliver, were there any conflicts, were they overall nice to work with? If you’re unable to find people in your extended network, there are some online tools such as the Net4Society research directory. Of course, if you work with us, we can suggest names of potentially interested collaborating partners.

Leading an interdisciplinary consortium

As the PI of an interdisciplinary consortium, you need to oversee the complete proposal while not being an expert on the work of other disciplines involved. This can be quite challenging. Explicitly formulating a joint ambition with your consortium is a good start. Then, ask your partners from other disciplines how they can contribute to this ambition with their specific background. It helps to delegate some of the leadership (e.g., for specific work packages or tasks) to other consortium members. At a minimum, each consortium member should contribute to writing their own part of the methodology, to make sure evaluators recognise the terminology and research traditions from all disciplines involved. Finally, discussions are needed throughout the proposal preparation phase to continuously align expectations and contributions across all consortium partners.

Our experience

We have worked with many interdisciplinary consortia, including in RIA, MSCA Doctoral Network, NWA-ORC, and Gravitation proposals. Coming from different backgrounds ourselves – Linde studied Liberal Arts and Neeltje has a PhD in neuroscience – we are excited to help building bridges between disciplines. Feel free to contact us for a chat about your interdisciplinary project idea!

Author: Neeltje Peters

Co-founder and Research Funding Professional at Fundament.

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