I was chatting with some PhD colleagues last week about the first few months of our research, and if there is one thing that we all seemingly had in common, it was the dreaded imposter syndrome. While it was certainly comforting to know that I wasn’t alone in feeling slightly overwhelmed at the beginning of my PhD, I still feel that there is something unique, and often unspoken, about the experience imposter syndrome when doing interdisciplinary research.
My research within the Centre explores the impact of the Paisley 2021 bid, and cultural initiatives more generally, on Paisley’s internal and external image and reputation. I’m interested in exploring the extent to which the media coverage generated, and the narratives created, have been used to ‘brand’ the town to external stakeholders as well as local residents. I’m also interested in understanding the extent to which these narratives might be used to stimulate broader regeneration aims.
My PhD is, then, interdisciplinary. I am exploring literature from all corners of the social sciences and beyond, looking at debates across urban, cultural and communication studies. What’s more, I’m far from the only person doing this sort of interdisciplinary work. Interdisiplinarity, or at least the lexicon of it, has become increasingly popular within academia in recent years.
But what does this mean for PhD students and early career researchers trying to forge an identity, and an expertise without the confines of traditional disciplinary boundaries? I have often joked – as I did when speaking with my PhD colleagues last week – that the thing about interdisciplinary imposter syndrome is that we get it in every space we operate. Without the stability of having a discipline to call our own, we often feel like we don’t belong in any of the research spaces we work within. Starting a PhD is daunting for everyone, but trying to gain expertise and understanding of different literatures in multiple subject areas at once can feel, at times, a near impossible task. So where does this leave interdisciplinary researchers like myself? There are positives, certainly. Interdisiplinarity can connect you with a wide range of academics and researchers from a variety of subject areas, and that can be an exciting thing.
Imposter syndrome is, then, one of the common issues that PhD students face during our research journey, and without the security of traditional academic identities it is important to remind ourselves that PhD study by its very nature is about pushing boundaries. With this in mind, is it not about time that we pushed the boundaries of the disciplines themselves? Arthur Koestler, writing in 1964, contended that for something to be considered a creative act, it must involve bisocation of two ‘incompatible’ schools of thought. This may not be a particularly nuanced way of understanding creativity, but perhaps this is a useful way of framing our interdisciplinary endeavours.
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