Interdisciplinary research: approaches and methods, University of Geneva

Without doubt, the interdisciplinary training module which took place last week in Geneva, organized by the Global Studies Institute, was a unique experience… of lines and pathways.

A week full of lectures, interactive workshops, presentations and certainly many coffee breaks (very necessary), led us all as participants to reflect on how interdisciplinary our work has already been (or not -and why not?) and illuminated many ways for further exploration.

I. On the way to school, I had the time to think about my work on a train, a couple of buses and while walking towards my final destination. Following a different than my usual route to go to a(nother) School, brought also along a company of… many different than my usual thoughts and ideas. It is also there, somewhere on the way, that I could change my perspectives and (literally) see interdisciplinarily. What a school, my daily paths!

~IN and On the way to School~

II. And what about pathways in time?

In fact, I am wondering whether interdisciplinarity allows one to see not only across disciplines but across age ranges too (!). Let me explain better: fortunately enough, I was passing by this lovely playground every morning. This playground is located in the bigger, open space area of Plainpalais, in Geneva. Yes, indeed, I am a teacher and I pay attention to playgrounds. Who says though that this empty playground was not inviting enough for me myself, hmmm… to jump over a piece of wood let’s say, to swing or run a bit, or have fun anyways..! I believe, the exposure of ourselves to the fields of our interests in a direct way, us, alone, there-somewhere, when nobody is looking (and you know that always somebody will) : that is the relationship between us and our thesis writing at the end of the day. Us being there doing something. What? You only know. And you do know when you go where you seek to find anything, physically.

Seeing ourselves in time is not seeing another self… to see our own histories in a continuum rather than in separate short stories might also reveal a perspective of seeing the world…sustainably! It doesn’t require advanced knowledge of biogenetics but only realizing that it will be us in our children, our grandchildren and the next generations in our world, as we have also been our parents, our grandparents, etc. Who we think we are?

Fragments of oneself

~Fighting the fragments of oneself IN time~

III. Moreover, pathways in a research design are something that came up strongly as questions rather than statements, as uncertainties rather than assertions… Trying to draw interpretations of the interdisciplinarity even of our own projects was challenging and difficult enough to be restricted to a few regular size papers. In fact, our multiple A3 attempts occupied quite a bit of space on the walls of our classroom, transforming this class from a white-(walls)-page into a (full-of lines-)place closer to our queries, to us…


~A bright classroom full of big windows~

IV. Importantly, something more I learnt and kept strongly in mind is the idea of serendipity as being considered a driver of interdisciplinary research. Hurray! Because it is so real, indeed, research is full of surprises… Whilst we struggle to decide from the (theoretical) beginning whether our research design follows either an inductive or a deductive approach, guess what: abduction is (practically) out there and very much so. We should not reject what tends to distract us. There is already an effect on us since the very moment of distraction. We should rather learn how to incorporate our distractions and turn them into fruitful outcomes for our driven-by-appeals work. “How?”, this would be another long discussion. In my opinion, the sagacity to do so is not something one does possess (or not) but something one learns and develops. Gradually. In fact, since the kindergarten or even earlier… Do you still like surprises?


For all the inspiration, merci beaucoup et au revoir Genève …




  • Didier Wernli, from the powerpoint presentations in the classes.
  • Darbellay F., Moody Z., Sedooka A, & Steffen G. (2014). Interdisciplinary Research Boosted by Serendipity, Creativity Research Journal, 26(1), pp. 1-10.

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