Subject critical awareness

The first interdisciplinary skill that students need to develop is how to be critically aware of the value and the limits of their own subject expertise, and why this makes working with other experts so important.

Subject critical awareness (SCA) forms the crucial base from which all other interdisciplinary skills have a clear reason to be developed or applied. It is the ‘why’ which promotes intrinsic interest in collaborating and perseverance for engaging with others in new settings.

SCA has two aims – each essential to the success of the interdisciplinary process.

  • It helps students establish what their own subject, and their own expert knowledge of it, can do to meet the shared goal. This helps build subject self-confidence.
  • It helps students to understand why they need the expertise of others. This helps build the subject-based humility essential for recognising the value of their colleagues.

Students work separately in their own subjects during this phase. Meeting in separate rooms or at different times is ideal. This may seem counter-intuitive as a first step for developing interdisciplinary collaboration. However, there is considerable research showing that focusing first on their own contribution is far more efficient and effective than not doing so (Zhang et al. 2007; Hollingshead et al. 2010; Lewis and Herndon 2011). This allows individuals to join the team with a more clear and focused idea of what they bring and what they need.