Demand for Interdisciplinary research due to the pandemic

Pandemic has given us a reason to think in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary ways.

By Dr PN Mukherjee and Dr Surabhi Kaul

Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus coined an important acronym ‘VUCA’ in 1987 on the Leadership theories. The concept of the ‘VUCA World’ started becoming an important Management concept in the current millennium due to emergence of an extremely dynamic competitive Business environment. The rapid stride in technology like cloud, Big Data, Artificial intelligence, Block chain, e-commerce, 3D printers, modular manufacturing coupled with new business practices in the virtual world, globalization, Liberalization across the globe, Industry 4.0 etc. has created this ‘VUCA World’. The personal as well as the Business world has become ‘Volatile’,‘Uncertain’, extremely Complex’ and Ambiguous’. Many of the popular Business practices are becoming irrelevant and obsolete in the current environment. People and business entities who cannot adapt to this new ‘VUCA’ environment are becoming redundant and obsolete thereby unable to survive. The name of the game is speed of adoption and agility. Information is available in abundance in this world of Big data and cloud. The world has changed from the competition to co-option. In tune with the current situation the research has to be cross functional and holistic drawing expertise from the relevant domains of Management, integrating them to take decision for solving a problem, choosing the best alternate decision for excellence and prosperity as well as sustenance in personal or Business domain.

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has devastated the entire world not only in terms of physical health but also mental and societal health at large. While distinctive thoughts on COVID 19 certainly hold a place, interdisciplinary research can play a pivotal role in steering this global health crisis. As it is said “Many brains are better than one”, interdisciplinary research is the way forward to not only predict the outcomes of this situation but also will help us take proactive measures. The disruption caused by this pandemic has opened windows to new research paradigms towards human issues like psychological wellbeing and mental health that need a long-term perspective and an interdisciplinary approach. To think together and out of the box is the new normal.

Collaborations among multifaceted talents like researchers and academicians in not new and have been witnessed globally in the form of multidisciplinary research. However, Interdisciplinary research requires various teams with varying specialties to unify to achieve an overall objective. The pandemic world requires both multidisciplinary collaborations where discipline-specific work is accomplished parallel to target a common problem and Interdisciplinary collaborations where researchers across disciplines jointly work towards a common problem.For example,data Analytics and medical science research can together be used to predict anticipate and control future pandemics or any future medical calamity. Engineers, Physicists, and Chemists can help design and reengineer tools and equipments mandatory to be used by the frontline workers. This pandemic is a perfect situation to understand that we need interdisciplinary research to deal with this crisis where combined efforts of multiple disciplines are important to cope up. We need learned decision-makers, researchers, and development forces to put forth combined efforts to conquer this pandemic.

If we talk about management skills, it is among the most important skills required not only in the business world but also in medical sciences. Interdisciplinary research in the domain of healthcare and management will benefit the world with diverse life-saving innovations. It is next to impossible to tackle a pandemic-like situation individually, thus, working together towards solving the problem is important. What we have been seeing is interdisciplinary collaborations among similar domains like medicine, physicists, chemists, etc, but a broader collaboration is required like Management, communication, IT, Analytics, and Medicine. Such collaborations may be scarce but seem intuitively hopeful. Medicine researchers may look at the intricate sections of the research and social science researchers may focus on a long-term perspective. Blending such disciplines will surely strengthen and make outcomes more comprehensive.

Interdisciplinary collaborations may not always be huge. Some of the real-time and simple collaborations that the world witnessed were typically society and human-driven. As the coronavirus pandemic was novel and much was not known about, the collaboration of IT, media, and health experts on social media platforms helped in streamlining genuine information to the people. We witnessed multiple partnerships among small businesses where people with needs were identified and necessities were delivered at their doorsteps. Another innovation that we witnessed was telemedicine, where media and doctors collaborated to make healthcare available to people. This looked very unusual in pre-Covid days but is the new normal now. As it is rightly said, “It sometimes takes a cataclysmic event to make a change happen”.

Talking about the research in academics, we have witnessed a plethora of academic interdisciplinary research focusing on diverse fields of mental health, social issues, job loss grief, and of course the biological aspects of this virus. Academic research should be more purpose-driven and involve inter-disciplinary stakeholders. To promote this culture, interdisciplinary research must be stemmed from the undergraduate level. Emphasis on choosing interdisciplinary electives and research training should be promoted. The Indian education system should promote the culture of interprofessional education wherein students can choose some subjects across disciplines. It is mandated that we revamp certain classic courses and add contemporary and interdisciplinary flavor to them. Analytics, IT, Big Data, Emotional well-being are a few disciplines that are a new normal to each discipline whether healthcare, social science, or engineering.

Pandemic has given us a reason to think in interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary ways. Collaborations are important for breakthrough innovations and long-term societal developments. To solve any complex and uncertain problems interdisciplinary research is the way forward. The current situation emerging from the COVID-19 related impact on economy, business or personal life has become highly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous for every individual or corporates changing everything from customer buying behavior, supply chain, manufacturing to service sector practices leading to the integration of processes across individual domains like Marketing, finance, operation etc. to across the organizations needing a cross functional research for every business or academic problem or hypothesis to draw a conclusion. It is rightly said that collaboration leads to division of work and doubling of success.

(Dr PN Mukherjee is Director, NMIMS Navi Mumbai Campus and Dr Surabhi Kaul is Assistant Professor, NMIMS Navi Mumbai Campus. Views expressed are their own.)

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