After all these years serving as a Peer Review Committee Member for DPDF, I have noticed that applicants always have a hard time writing about their interest in being exposed to diverse approaches that might contribute to their research project. This specially comes up with students in the fields of behavioral economics or biology; students who are oftentimes used to conduct experimental research in the lab. I have often seen cases where students who are skilled and well-trained in their subfields forget to explain how the interdisciplinary aspect of DPDF might contribute to the development of their dissertation proposal.
This section seems to be simple but there’s a catch to it! You only have 500 words altogether (about a single-spaced page) to answer two questions. Thus, the challenge here is to be as clear and concise as possible. As you might know, Mr. SSRC’s organization strongly believes that interdisciplinary work can lead a research project to develop its full potential. Different disciplines pose questions in a different way, pick up on different details, use different methods, and make different assumptions. Researchers are better equipped to conduct significant research when they’re fully aware of the weaknesses and strengths of different perspectives. This is what opens the door for innovation.
So here, candidates are first asked to a) describe their interest in the theories, literature, methods, or overall approaches of disciplines outside their field, and b) what they might hope to gain from exposure to multiple discipline in the DPDF Program’s workshops. Candidates have to make sure that they answer the two parts of this question. We don’t want to hear just why learning about new methods might benefit a candidate’s research project, we also want to see that candidates are aware that there are different approaches to a problem — in other words that they are familiar with these alternative perspectives and are able to give examples — but have yet a lot to gain from them. In second place, candidates are asked to explain how their personal background or non-academic experiences inform the perspectives they will bring to their proposed dissertation project. As with the first question, candidates only have 250 words. Although we would like to hear all about your family vacations abroad, what we really want to know is what are you bringing into the table as a person. How have your previous experiences, have shaped your research interests and how they might benefit your research project.
p.d: The prompt for this post reminded me of one of my favorite songs as a teenager, “Sunday Morning” by No Doubt. The title of this post comes from the lyrics.