The Trifecta: Building Interdisciplinary Skills in Communication, Research and Technology Design

What’s your superpower? In today’s age, everyone has access to quick information and online learning tools like Lynda.com and YouTube. With social media, it’s easy to feel like everyone’s got everything and it’s up to us to play catch up. Last week, however, I attended the Engaged and Public Humanities 4-Day Seminar which focused largely on how to identify my unique humanities skills and ultimately how to translate them to industry needs and values. At the end of the program I realized that I have training in the humanities, social science and tech that allow me to see the world and solve problems in a really unique way.

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I feel empowered when I’m working with and for the benefit of others. Advocacy and community building are a part of my core values and they follow me through various roles I have held throughout the years. Before any of my technical skills come into play, I know I can be a good team player who is excited about learning and contributing. When it does come to technical skills, it’s okay to not be an expert at everything. As a very curious person, I am really interested in learning and tinkering and knowing a little bit about a lot of things. When I pair that curiosity with the things I know I am an expert in, it feels a lot less like I’m reaching all over the place and more like I can grounded in this one or two things but I can extend my roots to also be active in learning and contributing in other spaces as well.

What are you really good at doing? Think of both tangible (technical) and soft skills. Think about the things you love to do. Why do you love to do them? What is it about it that makes you want to keep coming back? Think about the things you really dislike doing. Are there other things that make you have the same feeling? A lot of people claim to hate math and think coding isn’t fun and maybe it really just isn’t fun for you, but have you thought about why? Perhaps, it’s because you don’t like sitting at a computer for long periods of time or maybe you are more of a tactile learner and prefer to work with your hands. Maybe you had a bad experience learning math when you were younger and have hated anything that had to do with it ever sense? Whatever it is, I encourage you to break down both the things you enjoy and the things you don’t enjoy so you can have a better understanding of what your skills are and how to build on them and translate them to others. Being informed about the things you don’t like in a very specific sense can empower you to know what tasks to delegate or create steps in developing a new perspective of them.

Many of my colleagues in the #EPH2019 cohort were humanities PhD and masters students working to translate their skills to the larger world. We held workshop discussions on what the humanities teaches us and why that matters. Characteristics like being able to communicate well, being able to analyze complex ideas and compare them to other ideas, having a mindset of learning and being able to ask good questions about the world and how certain things impact particular communities came up in discussion. For artists, being able to communicate in clear and creative ways is an important part of the lifestyle and mindset of those individuals. These skills clearly translate to needs in the larger world. Regardless of how niche your research interests may be, students in the humanities know how to conduct primary and secondary research and often with other people and their niche research offers another opportunity to do very specific kind of work that everyone else may not be the experts in the way they have learned. We need people in the humanities to keep asking questions about ethics and how culture impacts the technology we use and how power structures, ideologies and language differences come into play with new technology.

As an interdisciplinary scholar, I am grounded in both my humanities and social science background and my growing technical skills. Personally, I believe being well rounded allows you access into these very in-between spaces enough to ask questions that evolve from “How does this work?” to “How is this algorithm impacting marginalized communities?” and doing the work to make sure new technology is being designed ethically through human-centered and culturally sensitive frameworks.