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How Far (Out of Your Own Discipline) Can You Go?
June 5, 2012 - 8:53pm

I finally could offer my course “Science, Technology and International Relations” this past semester. The course had been on the elective courses list for the last three Spring semesters, but  enough students did not register before this year.  My guess was that the course topic was the deterrent: it obviously required being interested in science and technology, not a general characteristic of the average social sciences student. However, somehow the tides have turned this year and I found myself with nine students in the classroom.

This course brought me some positive results. I enjoyed a sense of pride since, to my knowledge, I am the first person in my country to teach such a course in an International Relations Department. I had taken similar courses when I was a graduate student in France and in the US and I felt like offering this course was a real contribution to the IR field in Turkey. It had been some time since I had taken these courses, so I had to look for new resources, study them and spend hours preparing to teach for my 3-hour class each week.  The resources I found were not often easy reads for a social science professor like myself and I had to rethink  and try to improve my own science and technology literacy. I enjoyed my teaching-oriented research so much that it had a spill-over effect on my research agenda and I decided to explore topics in Science, Technology and International Relations for future publications.

With this in mind, I decided to talk to one of the Physicists at my University, Prof. Dr. Serkant Ali Çetin who is also an active researcher at CERN. I was curious about Turkey’s march towards CERN membership and how the international cooperation among scientists worked in this field. Our first talk lasted for about an hour and a half. He answered some of my questions , gave me resources to read, but more importantly he told me the history of what I had read in theory and as case studies on paper. Through his vivid examples and anecdotes, I could see some of what I know on the theoretical level materialize before my eyes.

This led me to think seriously about our borders in academic disciplines.  Normally one would think that Physics and IR are light years apart from one another in academia. It’s expected that an IR scholar would be interested in History, Sociology, Economics, Psychology etc. and cooperation among such fields is necessary. However, my meeting with Prof. Çetin on CERN was probably one of the most fruitful and engaging meetings I ever had. I believe in interdisciplinary research; I feel I have no other choice. I am curious about things outside my own field, but I would hardly think that I’d find myself in a great academic communication with a Physicist (especially when I recall what a terrible student I was in Physics during high school).

A similar thing happened when my boyfriend introduced me to Evolutionary Institutionalism which can be oversimplified as the application of evolutionary theory to social sciences. Biology sounds like another field unrelated to IR; however, I found the approach very interesting and decided to apply it to my ongoing research on civil-military relations which let me discover new horizons in my understanding of my own field.

Now I’m convinced that you can go as far away as possible from your own academic field, yet if your goal is scientific research, exploring new frontiers, making sense of the world we live in and feeding curious brains (our own as well as our students’), no Faculty or Department in academic life is far. We are all neighbors who sometimes get bored within our own communities thinking and talking about the same issues over and over, and we are refreshed when we meet with the scholars from other fields.

I’m sorry for those scholars who lock themselves into their own narrow research area and miss the great minds, experiences and ideas that surround them. I hereby promise myself: I will never be one of them, and just as I try to meet with people from different parts of the world and cooperate with them in my field of International Relations, also as a citizen of the land of Academia, I will always make an effort to meet with people from the different regions of the scientific world.

Istanbul, Turkey

Itir is a founding member of the editorial collective at UniversityofVenus.



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