In Part 1, we discussed some challenges and solutions to help institutions better promote interdisciplinarity. Next, we focus on interdisciplinary scholars and their success in joint-appointed positions. As considered in Part 1, we recognize the large role that institutional context plays in any scholar’s success, and thus do not mean for this part to be viewed as just another “self-help” advice piece. Nevertheless, there are measures that can increase the chances of success in these positions.
For the interdisciplinary-oriented scholar, joint- or cross-appointments can be a rewarding way to accommodate their research, teaching, and professional interests. For example, these positions can provide formal access to a broader range of colleagues, helping frame their work to different audiences, which is especially useful in the tenure and promotion process for university-wide review committees. Also, affiliation with multiple units may provide access to a wider variety of internal funding opportunities.
Regardless of any institution’s specific context, scholars should be aware of the potential opportunities and challenges of interdisciplinary joint positions. Here we aim to help joint-appointed faculty develop a plan to navigate these murky waters.
Challenges and Solutions for Joint-Appointed Positions
- Being visible and participating in two places at once. Unless you have full buy-in from units for such joint appointments, it is challenging to be fully present in two departments. Even when your official workload is 50/50, the service architecture makes it more challenging for interdisciplinary faculty to meet service demands. To help address these challenges, it is important to have your units make agreements about your service division, and for you to keep your units informed on what service (to campus and beyond) you are involved in so that departments can adjust your service expectations as needed.
- Developing expertise in multiple areas (e.g., substantive topics, methods) takes more time. Be sure to regularly and extensively document your various professional and service activities and include them in your tenure and promotion files.
- Framing your work and academic identity to review committees (internal and external) who are disciplinary-focused. Many faculty may be unaware of the challenges of interdisciplinary work and the realities you face in your joint position. For example, because interdisciplinary work can often require more time than traditional disciplinary research, joint-appointed faculty may face lower productivity. As such, it can take longer for such work to be impactful, as measured by citations. Therefore, it is critical for faculty in joint positions to explain their scholarship, contributions, and other activities in greater detail. Others have provided some helpful advice on building your interdisciplinary identity.
Faculty Strategies for Success in a Joint Position
Despite these common—though not ubiquitous—challenges, joint positions can have many benefits. Here we offer tips for increasing your chances of success in a joint position.
- Negotiate expectations as early as possible. During your job interview, identify the publication, teaching, supervision, and service expectations for the position. When negotiating your position, contact junior/senior faculty on campus who have similar appointments (ideally faculty in units you are also considering your position in) and ask about their experiences in such positions, though be mindful that even their experiences may not generalize to your position.
- Find external mentors with experience in joint positions. Find a joint-appointed scholar (mid-career or senior) who can be your mentor. Here is where the IAPHS Mentoring Program can be useful! This can be a formal or informal mentoring arrangement. Either way, occasional check-ins can provide invaluable perspective and advice. If your campus offers a formal faculty mentorship program, ask to be paired with someone who has a similar joint appointment.
- Guide review committees by including evidence about interdisciplinary work. In applications, merit, tenure, and promotion files, explain your work in more detail and with less disciplinary language and jargon than you would use with a disciplinary audience. Disciplinary reviewers may not be familiar with certain practices or publication venues more common among interdisciplinary researchers, so provide context on publication venues, conferences, authorship contribution on multi-authored publications, and professional associations. You might also include evidence and citations highlighting the challenges of interdisciplinary work (see, for example, this National Academies report, “Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research”).
In sum, joint positions can be very appealing for both campus units seeking to develop new scholarly and training initiatives as well as population health researchers trying to navigate the job market in an academic world that, still in 2021, is organized in very disciplinary ways. These are just a few ways that scholars (whether at the early, mid-career, or senior stages) can navigate these murky waters. But don’t take our word for it. As with all things tenure and academia related, more information is better. IAPHS has many members who are currently navigating these positions. So if you are interested in joint positions, be sure to seek out resources and mentors that can help you succeed in these unique contexts.