When to go for tenure or promotion – Sixth in a series

Interdisciplinarity: the agony and the ecstasy. The university encourages interdisciplinary research, and many colleagues enjoy the excitement of working with a team on a project with a great deal of potential. But there are also potential pitfalls to doing this early in your career.

Interdisciplinary work really means building a new area of specialization that draws deeply from two or more existing areas, and this is not an easy task. You must develop sufficient expertise in multiple areas just to converse with all members of your team. It may be difficult to persuade existing venues to publish your work if no interdisciplinary venues have been established. You need to convince committees that your contributions are beyond that of a technician. If you publish in venues in many disciplines, committee members may judge your work unfocussed and dilettantish – you need to explain the connections. If you publish in venues not typical of those in your home unit, committee members may have concerns that you have not been able to publish in your own area.

These remarks are not intended to discourage interdisciplinary research. To the contrary, it is better for all concerned if those entering the interdisciplinary fray go into it properly prepared, and this may include laying down the appropriate foundations in the home area, especially early in your career.

Questions about tenure or promotion? Simply let us know in a reply to this e-Letter and someone will contact you. You can also reach us by phone at 306-966-5609.