A 2013 article by Bridle, Vrieling, Cardillo, Araya, and Hinojosa speaks to the benefits and challenges of interdisciplinary teams and how the future is likely to be shaped by such work as teams like this become more popular. While the article primarily focuses on researchers in the early stages of their career, the application to academic teams is easily seen.
The WWU Solar Window Project links studentsin the fields of Chemistry, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Design, and Business in order to create and demonstrate a functioning window that generates electricity from sunlight. Without each member of the team’s input we could not formulate the prototype or enter it into academic competition. And by being exposed to different perspectives and approaches, our academic work outside the team is broadened and elevated.
The benefits of an increased number of knowledge bases working on different approaches to problems might seem obvious. More resources allotted tend to deliver better results. In addition, we learn how to communicate with those outside our own sphere and alter the language we use to be more clearly understood. The use of jargon and shorthand falls away and we can fully and freely construct and explain our arguments and conclusions.
There are of course challenges to grouping dissimilar learning styles and experiences in one room. Interdisciplinary teams often take a longer time to jell and must be aware of the way they communicate in order to alter it to fit team dynamics. A balance towards one discipline, or set of disciplines, can tilt the group in that direction and limit contribution from others. The Solar Window project has deftly sidestepped that by putting an Industrial Design student as the project leader, a discipline that has much experience balancing the scientific method with real-world limitations.
I know I am thankful for the opportunity to contribute to this project and am sure that it has exposed me to perspectives and people that I would have never come into contact with otherwise.