Interdisciplinary research has become a recent buzzword in academia, already perhaps descending into a tired cliché peddled by researchers who need to tick the boxes of university and funders’ requirements and expectations. Many of us have already been working interdisciplinarily for many years, as a result of our education and training which encourages exploring multiple options to find solutions to intractable problems. But what happens when two extremely disparate disciplines come into contact with one another? It can result in nothing beyond blind incomprehension as each is bamboozled by the other’s technical jargon and unfamiliar concepts. Or it can, on rare occasions, spark unexpectedly productive connections.
This week has been another intensive writing week for me. My writing target is a 12,000-word chapter, and it is the lynchpin of the whole argument underpinning my new book. I’m trying to propose something very radical that will change the way we research and understand song. And although I had already worked out the basic tenets of my argument, imagine my surprise when I found myself turning to complex chemistry to try to explain what I think is going on in the relationship between words and music. The last time I touched any chemistry was aged 16 for my GCSE exams, so clearly I am not an expert. But I am fortunate to know someone who is (ahem, my Dad), and that makes probing the questions and ideas much more possible. I’m writing up the research as we speak, and I think it will work, but you’ll have to wait till the book is published to see whether or not I’ve kept the idea in and developed it properly…
This experience has reminded me that being open to the spark of unexpected connections made with completely unrelated areas of research is both important but incredibly daunting. In not seeking to become an expert in the other discipline, but instead questioning someone who is, there is a chance that the interdisciplinary process can open up whole new ways of thinking.