As a scholar of educational leadership and policy, Christine Tran’s studies often required her to work with social scientists in other disciplines. However, it was only as an ELISS fellow working with people from disciplines far outside the social sciences that she became aware that her interdisciplinary experience was limited. “Where else do a biologist, engineer, and education scholar get the opportunity to work together?” she said. For their ELISS project, Christine and two other ELISS fellows at the University of Washington explored the question: how can our community better prepare for a disease epidemic? After consulting with numerous stakeholders that identified communication as a key challenge, they organized a forum to discuss how social media could support coordinated communication that balances trust, fear, and accuracy.
How does one become more interdisciplinary? In ELISS, Christine came to realize that, “it’s just about having a conversation. Acknowledging I have a lot to share but also a lot to learn. We need to get outside of our comfort zones. Just because we don’t research the same thing doesn’t mean we don’t have things to learn from each other.” Reflecting on her experience in ELISS, Christine says that she has become more comfortable working with people outside of her area of expertise and sees these interactions as learning opportunities.
Christine is now a program officer at First 5 LA, an early childhood advocacy organization working collaboratively across LA County. There she continues to be a boundary spanner, working across multiple departments to achieve organizational objectives. A key focus of her job is to open communication channels across departments that ultimately reduce duplicative efforts and create synergy across the organization. While working in the murky space in between departments and projects could be confusing for some, Christine is a systems thinker who sees how one piece fits with the others. Christine acknowledged that being a boundary spanner can be challenging, but it can also be very rewarding!
“Being a boundary spanner allows you to expand opportunities for creativity and collaboration by connecting knowledge that traditionally lives within a single division or individual. In crossing these boundaries, I realize that we all have knowledge to share. We often don’t share because academia sorts us into different worlds. It feels like we speak different languages, but really we just need to take time to listen to each other. Because of ELISS, I am unafraid to try new strategies and seek input from others outside of my field. I’m also unafraid of the inevitable walls I will encounter because I know those challenges are lessons too. Boundary spanning is as much about embracing the process as it is about the result.”