Financial Support

Advice from Prior Faculty

Preparing a Successful Project

When Faculty from prior UCSB Crossroads projects talk to us about their experiences and learning—what they did that worked well and what they would recommend that others do in future interdisciplinary collaborations—they tend to emphasize four basic pieces of advice. As you plan out your project proposal, these ideas may be helpful for you to keep in mind.

(1) the importance for Faculty of having Concrete Goals to drive interdisciplinary collaboration and learning, from the beginning.

It can be easy for academic minds to fall into debates about abstract ideas, nuances of terminology, and differences in disciplinary perspectives—and valuable group time can be lost in the process. Having a concrete, agreed-upon goal for the project helps to direct group conversations from day 1: giving Faculty a way to frame and focus seminar themes at every group meeting, working toward specific next steps and deliverable outcomes.

(2) the value that Graduate Fellows find in Constructing and Helping Apply Lectures / Course Curricula together with faculty—that it takes effort on both sides, but the Fellows find it motivating, worthwhile, and empowering.

Putting together the narrative arc of a lesson's ideas and examples, seeing how those lessons fit together into a course's larger educational goals, and selecting the most poignant readings and activities to drive home that learning: these are skills that many graduate students want to develop, but get few opportunities to work on, in a dedicated way, with expert support and faculty guidance. Creating time in the second quarter where Fellows—paired with Faculty, in small cohorts, and/or as a larger project think tank—develop teaching modules for the courses they will be TAing is something that the Fellows consistently voice appreciation for: it takes a lot of thinking and effort, but turns their teaching quarter into something personal, that they are invested in and proud of, and that helps them grow as educators and academics.

(3) the inevitable investment of Time, and Willingness to be Uncomfortable as learners, in coordinating perspectives and merging understandings.

Most faculty involved in these interdisciplinary collaborations describe a learning curve that is both challenging and invigorating: where they have to step out of their role as experts and ask very basic questions in order to understand their academic peers' distinct disciplinary methods, standards of evidence, intellectual lenses and priorities, institutional motives and vocabularies. Creating space for this learning—regular breaks for asking questions and paraphrasing others' ideas, online forums for building project vocabulary lists or posting explanations and links after meetings, occasional big-picture days for stepping back and assessing where the group has come and is going—helps the Faculty to enrich their own understandings and research approaches, and allows the Graduate Students to watch their mentors modeling good (i.e., humble, curious, supportive, motivated) learning practices as the group develops its knowledge-base together.

(4) the usefulness of Taking Teachable Moments when you see them, as faculty—to Model question-asking and perspective-seeking in the group, to Teach/Lead in moments where experience and familiarity will add clarity or movement forward, and to Collaborate actively (including Potential Interventions for non-Crossroads faculty who are hijacking conversations – making sure to make room for Grad Fellows' participation).

As mentioned above, the learning process in any group collaboration requires time and willingness. Perhaps even more notably in research projects that span disciplinary lines, such learning processes can be emotionally, intellectually, and socially uncomfortable for those involved. When stresses arise in these environments, participants tend to fall back on self-affirming habits—filibustering about a topic they are comfortable with, defensively rejecting alternate viewpoints or approaches, pulling rank or ignoring certain peoples' contributions—which can undermine the very core of an interdisciplinary collaboration's value: that it brings together well-honed specialties in combinations that compliment and fortify one another. To support this mutual sharing, listening, learning, and creating, Faculty need to be proactive in modeling and facilitating these behaviors: recognizing when the time is ripe for teaching from experience, eliciting others' knowledge-bases, fielding incomplete ideas for others to build on, and offering useful pieces to strengthen others' valued contributions.