The Dream Team

I have been researching interdisciplinary research this fall. When I think about what I want to do with my dissertation research, the idea that really holds my interest is finding a way to fold my work into the larger policy discussion: how should we change our international relations to better cope with changes in the environment? When we have ongoing joint management schemes for a particular place, how can we adapt them to meet unexpected challenges? Institutions interest me, relationships between goverments interest me, and the environment interests me.

I used to think that this sort of thing was done in NGOs, iNGOs, governments and think tanks. After some research, it looks as though academia may host some cool teams, and the DC scene certainly seems to have a few based in the big grant-giving organizations. So it's not sector–specific.

As a researcher, I can only do so much. I read, I synthesise my findings and analyse their meaning, I write it all up. But my brain is only trained for some kinds of analysis, it only holds a certainly amount of information. Belonging to a team would be so much better.

This afternoon, I was reading notes that I took in the Ontario provincial archives a few months ago. There are a lot of letters, data sets and memos about pollution flows into the Great Lakes at different points in the twentieth century. I want to know what a chemist or a biologist would make of it all. Do we still test for the same chemicals? Have the lab tests changed much? What would the data say to an expert with modern analytical tools?

To me, they seem to show a heavily used, industrialised region that was degrading its water supplies. Lots of new chemicals were being invented, and as some were phased out or cleaned up, others emerge. So far, so good. And for environmental historians, that broad yet accuate picture may be enough. And yet, what if I had a dream team of limnologists, engineers, economists, chemists to sift through it all with me? That's the kind of group that could create a holistic picture, as correct in its deep details as in its broad strokes.

And while I'm at it, why not wish for a research assistant to type my notes?

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