Presenting Your Work to Multidisciplinary Audiences

Figuring out how to communicate your research to different audiences can be tough, as anyone who is managing multiple applications can tell you. It can be even tougher, though, to figure out how to do so in the same application.  As you research your funder and their mission, it’s important to understand how the review process works. For many awards, there will be a multidisciplinary review panel of some kind. This post outlines some tips and tricks for appealing to a multidisciplinary audience. 

How is the review process structured? In some competitions, there is a tiered decision making process, where the proposal is first evaluated by reviewers from within the discipline, and then the most successful proposals are evaluated by an interdisciplinary review panel. In other competitions, you may be guaranteed people who study your region, or your topic, but not from your field as well. Understanding how the review process is structured helps you to figure out how to pitch the proposal

What are the funders’ goals? Finding out the funder’s goals by investigating the website and contacting the program officer (link). Some programs have a subject or issue area they want to support, while others want to advance a specific type of research. For example, the Charlotte Newcombe is interested in projects that concern religion or ethics, the Fulbrights and the SSRC IDRF fund international dissertation research. In any case, it’s a mistake to think that they will fund your research because it’s novel or a good idea – the proposals that win are likely to do so because they advance the funder’s mission.

Construct a narrative that is driven by ideas: The story you tell in your application should be crisp, clear, and devoid of any ambiguity.  Jargon and specialized terms tend to be discipline or subdiscipline specific, but ideas and concepts travel well across disciplinary boundaries. Focus on describing the ideas behind your project.   Be sure that you articulate why your timeframe and methods are reliable and should be trusted. Be sure to connect the literature review to larger questions that are interesting to people outside of your field. 

Emphasize the significance: Many of these multidisciplinary awards are interested in creating a dynamic cohort surrounding the topic or issue. They want to know that your methods are solid, but likely on a more general level than for other types of awards. The so what question should be really apparent. Explain your work to someone not in the field and make them ask you the “so what” question, over and over again, until they can understand the significance.

Convey breadth and depth: You should still come across as an expert in the field, and sound like you can hold your own in a conversation within as well as across your field. How to do both of those at once? One solution is an hourglass approach, where the first part of the proposal frames the project for a broad, multidisciplinary audience, the middle of the proposal speaks to experts in the field, and the end returns to the argument for the broader significance of the project.

Feedback: It’s easy to ignore feedback from people outside of the discipline – don’t. (Link to feedback). If you can, it can also be helpful to get comments from people who mimic the review panel before you submit. If there will be an area studies member of the review panel, make sure you get feedback from someone who studies your region but is not in your field. 

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