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I want you for collaboration!

Challenges and opportunities of interdisciplinary research.

„Whereas the first generation of doctoral researchers will primarily address disciplinary study questions, […] later generations will focus on synergies across projects.” With this mission of the ConFoBi project proposal in mind, over the last few weeks, ConFoBi PhD students dedicated much of their time to finding ways to fulfil these expectations.

While one part of the group had never heard of terms like “single nucleotide polymorphism” or “dendrotelm” others were unfamiliar with “discourse analysis” or “socio-ecological modelling”, due to the variety of academic backgrounds of the ConFoBi students. At the starting point, this made it difficult to imagine what cooperation between some of the very different projects might look for, especially when thinking about the integration of natural and social sciences. As one of the four obligatory workshops, ConFoBi students have to attend during their PhD, the two-day workshop on inter- and transdisciplinarity by Prof. Dr. Michael Pregernig brought the group to a common understanding. In addition, to facilitating an understanding of the differences between approaches, it provided the necessary insights on principles and methods of multi-, inter- and transdisciplinary research. One important component of the workshop was to critically reflect on different examples, inside and outside of ConFoBi, and assess the degree of integration of different research projects involving different scientific backgrounds. These discussions were accompanied by an exercise to position our own PhD projects within the fields of inter- and transdisciplinarity. By doing so, the opportunities for project cooperation over the course of a PhD became obvious, thus making it possible to tackle more complex research questions and support each other with a broad variety of methods.

In order to keep the overview of the ConFoBi project, including individual work as well as past, present, and future collaborations, shortly after the workshop the whole group attended a retreat in the Black Forest. During two intensive days, we mapped all past and possible future collaborations with the help of a facilitator. Using participatory and creativity-promoting methods, never before thought of project ideas emerged. More than that, we achieved a consensus on a possible management tool to structure our common research. The retreat also helped us to intensify and strengthen the group dynamic. Only the future will show what will be implemented, but nevertheless, be prepared for some interdisciplinary papers tackling the challenges of biodiversity conservation.

by Philipp Mack (C2)