Thoughts from a Self-Proclaimed Interdisciplinarian
I am scientist trained in sociology, social work and public health (behavioral sciences, to be exact), who did a postdoc in a Pharmacy department and is now a tenure-track Assistant Professor in a College of Nursing. There are pros, cons and lessons learned from my interdisciplinary and inter-professional journey worth sharing as you consider your next job or career move.
My training gives me an incredibly unique and holistic perspective that I bring to my research on reducing health disparities. This field of research is complex and multifactorial. Because I live between disciplines, I can borrow from a variety of disciplinary frameworks and approaches to address issues and collaborate with others.
I have developed broad professional networks across institutions, departments and disciplines. These scientific and professional networks have introduced me to numerous colleagues across the country who work in my field, and helped me secure professional development opportunities, such as conference travel awards (AcademyHealth Diversity Scholars, American Association for Cancer Research Travel Grants) and sponsored research training opportunities (e.g., Health Equity Leadership Institute, EPIC at Columbia). These networks also allow me to be a resource to the students I mentor and to other faculty looking for various career and professional development resources.
My background also opens up new possibilities for funding and publishing. As a postdoc, I applied for and secured a fellowship that commonly targets pharmacy faculty. I am also able to frame my research findings for audiences across a broad variety of discipline specific journals.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a home. Many academic and research funding institutions are siloed by disciplines, diseases, or health professions. I have not pledged my devotion to a single discipline (although I do get very excited when I meet other social workers!).
In line with this, I have found it hard to find a professional society or organization that can best support my career and professional development. I have been a member of a number of organizations, but often don’t feel that they are meeting my needs or giving me service opportunities needed for tenure and promotion. Stay tuned because I will be attending a new conference in a few weeks that I think may be my unicorn!
Be open to the guidance of others. At every major turning point in my scientific training and career, there were colleagues and mentors who suggested I consider opportunities I would have never imagined. Ironically, I was not a good fit for some faculty positions I applied for in social work and public health departments. Yet I ended up in Nursing because a colleague urged me to apply and it’s been a perfect fit for me in so many ways.
Be more concerned with solving problems than with your disciplinary approach. My obsession with creating solutions to reduce health disparities has guided my research and career. The problems we face as scientists are increasingly more complex to understand and solve. I think it’s safe to say that most of these problems cannot be solved by a single discipline. By working with other scientists from different disciplines, we are more likely to reach new solutions. For example, I am currently working with a team of diverse mentors (e.g., behavioral scientist, nurse scientist, epidemiologist) to address the age-old problem of “medication adherence” by developing a multi-level intervention to improve adherence to endocrine therapy among breast cancer survivors. We believe this new approach to an old problem is promising.
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