The Pam Report part 4: Building interdisciplinary, boundary-breaking environments

Building interdisciplinary, boundary-breaking environments

Although interdisciplinarity is stressed in academia, there is an evident gap in facilitating this in the corporate and administrative worlds. Much like academia, working environments from multidisciplinary teams with people bringing in perspectives from numerous academic backgrounds and various positions on methodology and knowledge. The GI administrative team is in a unique position where they must work with the academic world along with the internal, University structure, and external industry partners.

There are huge benefits to interdisciplinary collaborations beyond academia since engaging multiple perspectives and knowledge bases help address complex challenges through building complementary understandings (Dutton et al, 130). Fostering this engagement breaks down barriers on all fronts, addressing the notion that problems are multifaceted—something that is becoming more widely accepted. However, building an environment where disciplinary-boundary-breaking can happen is difficult. It requires all parties involved to be willing to learn and embrace alternative approaches. The crux of the challenge is to create a common language that facilitated an understanding of each other’s expectations and contributions. Collaborations necessitate an expanded ethical model that takes educational differences into account and equalizes power dynamics (Baldwin & Austin, 47).

To facilitate deeper ethical learning and respect, Agata Antkiewicz, the GI’s Associate Director, Strategic Planning and Administration, mandates that all her staff take the University of Waterloo’s Principles of Inclusivity training. This educational course specializes in educating about sensitivity and respect toward different ethnicities, religions, and gender/sexuality that trains attendees in creating accommodating environments on campus. When thinking of interdisciplinary, respect for another person’s discipline is only one facet of creating a crucial base on which to work from.

You must also respect their cultural and religious background, their gender, and sexuality to fully understand the diversity of perspective that a single, holistic, individual holds.

In context, play creates a space that can be both positive and negative. If positive, the creative world of play is built on trust and respect, as your aim is to unwind with all parties involved and become more comfortable with one another. Clustering a group of individuals together, or forcing them to work on a project, does not mean interdisciplinary collaboration exists or will happen. There needs to be a specific working ecosystem in place with productive environmental triggers that both motivate and naturally train students, faculty, and staff to think with an interdisciplinary mindset, or to at least, to acknowledge other perspectives. An interdisciplinary research centre provides more than a holistic view of knowledge. It encourages an egalitarian view of ourselves, how we treat one another, and how we tackle all problems presented before us.


For interdisciplinary approaches to truly resonate with researchers, there must be an ecosystem in place that encourages this collaboration to happen. The GI creates this ecosystem by encouraging a culture of play, which allows for a common language to develop between individuals. The language that is produced and allows for researchers to connect on a personal and academic level is informed by the Principles of Inclusivity that the GI strictly adheres to, ensuring that all expressions of humanity are respected and valued. The GI is such a successful interdisciplinary institution because of the hard work done by the administration to lead by example and treat their own internal team as interdisciplinary. Starting a conversation is one thing, but creating an environment where true discourse happens in a respectful way is when the magic happens—broadening of knowledge that resonates with multiple disciplines, impacts society, and allows us to connect with one another.


Baldwin, Roger G., and Ann E. Austin. “Toward Greater Understanding of Faculty Research Collaboration.” The Review of Higher Education, vol. 19, no. 1, 1995, pp. 45–70. (Crossref), doi:10.1353/rhe.1995.0002.

Dutton, William H., et al. “Fostering Multidisciplinary Engagement: Communication Challenges for Social Research on Emerging Digital Technologies.” Prometheus, vol. 24, no. 2, June 2006, pp. 129–49. Taylor and Francis+NEJM, doi:10.1080/08109020600714910.

Go back to the beginning: The Pam Report part 1: Team Bonding through “One Night Ultimate Werewolf”

This concludes the Pam Report! Thanks for joining us for all 4 instalments.

Over the past few weeks, we shared excerpts from Pamela Maria Schmidt's award-winning Co-op Report. Currently Research Projects Facilitator at the Games Institute, Pam received the English Co-op Report Award in recognition of her significant contribution to our community during her co-op terms as Operations Assistant (S'19) and Assistant Project Manager (F'19).

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