Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Pushing disciplinary boundaries: No, really.


As nerdy as it may sound, I enjoy learning. I look forward to hearing new ideas and meeting people with varied research interests. This year as a postdoc on the ASSAR consortium, I have found myself flooded with opportunities to just this - attend trainings, go to conferences, meet some really good researchers, and in the process learn along the way.

In March, I attended a week-long training on DSSAT, a model that helps simulate crop yields in different climatic scenarios and under crop management practices. Hosted by ICRISAT, I was one of the few interdisciplinary researchers in a roomful of agronomists. Some reflections:

  • For all the talk on interdisciplinary research, research in Indian agriculture universities is still predominantly confined by discipline. It took a couple of days for the agronomists to appreciate the importance of having non-agronomists on the training. This is disturbing since the value of drawing on the strengths of multiple disciplines is well recognised globally.   
  • Although one training does not make me a crop modeler, it does most certainly equip me with the knowledge and language to have a coherent conversation with crop modelers. Crucially, I understand the assumptions underlying DSSAT outputs and can therefore interpret results in a more robust manner. As someone who researches the interface of climate risks and agricultural livelihoods, I'm glad to have gained this skill. 
  • Trainings are also a great way to learn about an organisation. A week in ICRISAT and interactions with several junior and senior researchers, gave me an 'insiders' perspective' which is always an asset if you plan to work/collaborate with an organisation. 
DSSAT training at ICIRSAT, Hyderabad
To conclude, while carving your niche and specialising within a discipline is crucial, I feel early career researchers should definitely open their minds and schedules to training programmes that may not be directly linked to their research but may have implications on their understanding of others' research. It is only when I talk to those outside my discipline do I learn how to communicate my work to them and develop a language that helps me understand their research (and its strengths and weaknesses) better.

AgMIP training at IIHS, Bangalore
The DSSAT training was followed by one on AgMIP in Bangalore, but that's a whole other story :)

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