Bridging the gap

McMurty, a professor at the University of Ottawa, gave a talk at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Monday. (Rebecca Allison)

McMurty, a professor at the University of Ottawa, gave a talk at the Interdisciplinary Conference on Monday. (Rebecca Allison)

Climate change, poverty, disease and environmental sustainability are all complex problems requiring complex solutions. Laurier’s Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action (CCRLA) believes that these problems can be solved by professionals from many different disciplines coming together and providing their unique expertise to a difficult issue.

The CCRLA invited Angus McMurty, an associate professor in the faculty of education at the University of Ottawa, to speak at the Interdisciplinary Conference, Promoting health and well-being through interdisciplinary collaboration: Moving jointly toward shared goals, which took place on Monday.

In his speech, McMurty, who has degrees in philosophy, law and education, as well as being a successful entrepreneur, shared his insights on how people in different fields and with different skill-sets can come together to find solutions to complex issues.

“People need to build on each other’s ideas and adapt their own to create something new,” said McMurty, who came from what one might call an interdisciplinary background.

His immediate family included people involved in many different fields.  He also worked with several different professionals when he worked on the popular career finding website, Career Cruising.

According to McMurty, he learned early on to mediate these differing opinions.

He went on to provide guidelines for working in an interdisciplinary team.

“People tend to seek out like-minded individuals,” said McMurty.  “This needs to be avoided in order to find real solutions to complex problems.”

“The power of teams comes from diversity,” said McMurty.
Abby Goodrum, vice-president of research at Laurier, also spoke at the conference. She, like McMurty, has a diverse professional background and believes that through interdisciplinary work, the present world’s complicated issues can be solved.

“All of the big changes that challenge the world today are at the boundaries of our knowledge…only through collaboration can we solve them,” said Goodrum.

Goodrum went on to say that collaboration needs to be encouraged through funding. Universities, she believes, need to promote interdisciplinary collaboration by providing funding to academics working with people from different disciplines, something already happening here at Laurier.

“It is a part of Laurier’s secret sauce,” said Goodrum.

After his speech, McMurty was pleased to have the opportunity to assist others in their interdisciplinary work, which he said is becoming a discipline within itself.  He also believes there is still work to be done in “bridging the gap” between disciplines.

“How do you get a sociologist and physicist to talk?” asked McMurty.

Carol Stalker, professor and associate dean of the PhD program at the faculty of social work at Laurier, attended the conference to learn more about what her colleagues in different disciplines were working on.

She found McMurty’s views very interesting and applauded the “practical advice” he provided.

Michael Pratt, professor of psychology, hoped to learn more about his colleagues as well, with a particular interest in the environment.  He believes that interdisciplinary work is important to finding solutions.

“These problems require lots of different perspectives here. It’s urgent,” said Pratt.