Ngoc T. Phan and Andrea Malji Discuss the Various Challenges of Working in an Interdisciplinary Department

This article discusses the various professional challenges of working in an interdisciplinary department. Many colleges and universities have merged programs to cut costs amid budget woes and decrease enrollment. These mergers are increasingly common within the social sciences and humanities; these mergers will lead faculty with diverse methodological and epistemological training to work together. As a result, this can create several challenges, including professional isolation. This article identifies several challenges facing Political Scientists in an interdisciplinary department and offers strategies that can help overcome the professional isolation within a multidisciplinary department. We include actions to overcome isolation on the personal, institutional, and community levels.

Are you feeling professionally and academically isolated in your interdisciplinary department?

We explore the challenges of being in a multidisciplinary department as junior political science scholars who are also geographically isolated. As an Americanist and Comparativist, we entered our program at the same time and built a system that supported our academic and professional development. We share the unique challenges in affirming and sustaining our identity as political scientists in a teaching-focused college within a department with few social scientists. Given our high teaching loads and limited funds for scholarship, we have provided strategies that helped build our community and helped us thrive with limited institutional support:

Our advice includes three approaches:

  1. Personal Engagement to Overcome Isolation.
  2. Faculty Engagement with other Faculty.
  3. Community Building.

First, we encourage personal engagement, which may necessitate that we reflect on our identity as political scientists and bridge isolation by incorporating interdisciplinary approaches into research and teaching. Political scientists study power, and the humanities offer keen insights on unpacking power dynamics. Secondly, engagement with other faculty across, within, and outside our home institutions is constructive in finding “folks” that overlap in area, subject matter, and research methodologies. Lastly, community building within one’s geographic community and reflecting on the place, history, and people may develop new research agendas and academic development. We both have pushed ourselves to center Oceania and Indigenous scholarship and communities within our courses and research agendas. The walls of the university and department are strong. Still, we can scale them with creativity and resourcefulness, which can foster connections and create new communities to overcome isolation and spur personal and professional development. In feeling isolated, we changed our identity, ideas, and practices to become more inclusive teacher-scholars.

  • Andrea Malji is an assistant professor in the department of History, Humanities, and International Studies and the chair of the international studies major at Hawaii Pacific University.
  • Ngoc T. Phan is an assistant professor at Hawai’i Pacific University in the Department of History, Humanities, and International Studies in the College of Liberal Arts. She is a social scientist who studies human decision-making and collective action.
  • About the Journal of Political Science Education