Applied Interdisciplinarity and the Scholar-Practitioner: Narratives of Social Change
This book project will highlight the writings of the first eight graduates of the Doctor of Social Sciences (DSocSci) program at Royal Roads University. This program is Canada’s first applied research doctorate designed exclusively for working professionals. The program was developed in response to a growing demand nationally and internationally for scholar-practitioners who are leaders in their professional fields and who want to incorporate dedicated research and writing into their professional lives. Given the nature of the diversity of persons interested in the program, the DSocSci focuses on the interdisciplinary applications of the Social Sciences to researchable issues in the workplace, issues that have both local and global relevance. The program is designed to enable students to integrate professional experience and academic scholarship to produce policy-relevant research that is written in a widely accessible way.
The chapters will focus, in part, on the experiences of the contributors as they embarked on a rather unusual journey that focused on issues in the workplace from an interdisciplinary perspective. The chapters describe their experiences in framing and conducting research that was outside the boundaries of discipline-based research and that was driven by issues “on the ground.” More importantly, however, the contributors place their research in an interdisciplinary framework, as they see it, and describe how their use of interdisciplinarity drove their research and their consequent professional endeavours. One of the important contributions of their writing, and the book in general, is the idea that real-world research generates the conceptual framework for scholar-practitioner research that draws on many disciplines at once. We chose our contributors because they are all highly placed professionals who worked within their organizations to produce cutting-edge research with foundational policy relevance.
The Nature of Applied Interdisciplinary Research
Because the DSocSci program is devoted to interdisciplinary work, the collegial comments and suggestions often take the students outside their original mindset and provide guidance that gives their research an unanticipated direction. This melding of ideas is, in part, the result of the diversity of global experience—may of our students work in international settings, while many have little international experience but substantial local involvement. What this kind of cross cultivation of ideas has created for the students has been an evolving recognition of the importance of epistemology to sciences research and the importance of alternative ways of knowing. The authors will discuss epistemology within the context of their program and provide insights into how interdisciplinarity has changed the nature of their work and their education in the context of lifelong learning.
The Melding of the Professional and the Academic
One of the foundations of our program is the importance of the professional lives of our students to their research programs. All of our students are conducting research relevant to their professional lives or the institutions in which they work. This has, for the most part, created a protracted awareness amongst the students that their research is not abstract but does have a real-world relevance that cannot be ignored or given short shrift. Clearly, the research has profound implications for connecting tangible issues faced in the professional world with the theoretical and epistemological challenges of the academe. The resulting applied interdisciplinary research has wide-reaching impacts for the larger community, and we have asked our contributors to discuss their research within this particular context.
Lifelong Learning, Career Development, and Doctoral Research
The majority of our students are mid- to late-career professionals and are devoted not only to lifelong learning but to another professional life after their immediate careers. This new professional life clearly involves a desire to pursue research either in a formal or informal capacity. Many of our students indicate that they wish to pursue research well past retirement and that the training and experience that they receive in their doctoral research are vehicles for them to prepare for this professional life stage either as part-time continuing employees or as consultants. There is a clear symbiosis between their academic, curiosity-driven passion for research and the practical and financial demands of post-retirement.
Networks of Learning, Interdisciplinarity, and Research Cross-Pollination
It is possible that the often-stated desire amongst our students to continue their “ongoing roundtable of shared ideas” stems from their intellectual isolation in the workplace. What they receive in the doctoral program is a protracted opportunity to share and discuss their ideas, and a place in which their ideas have an opportunity to evolve. It is interesting in this context of cross-fertilization that many of our students end up to some degree involved in issues of social and ecological justice, despite whether they started from a generic justice paradigm.
The obvious synergy among the students and their willingness to co-operate and not compete is a cornerstone not only of our program but of mature scholarship. This is partly a function of professional maturity and partly a function of the students’ realization that there is an inherent strength in supporting each other in the development of their research projects; this is especially critical in an interdisciplinary program, while they may be academic and professional specialists, It is also a function of the diversity in experience of our students. In short, it appears that interdisciplinarity creates an intellectual humility that by no means detracts from research development. In fact, this approach to intellectual work seems to create openness to new ideas and paradigms and awareness that knowledge acquisition is never a finished project.
The book is currently in progress and we hope to be publishing sometime in 2017.
Pulla, S, & Schissel, B. (Eds). (2017) Applied Interdisciplinarity and the Scholar Practitioner: Narratives of Social Change. Palgrave McMillian. (In press.)