Interdisciplinary Information

Information can be complicated. In the schematic to the left, created by illustrator Jessica Hagy, connecting any two points together creates interesting and amusing combinations. But this illustration is as informative as it is humorous: it underscores the complexity of interdisciplinary work. The above cartoon creates a network of 15 different pair wise interactions. What happens when we connect more than two disciplines? When there are more than six disciplines? When there are different ways of connecting disciplines together? As the network of interactions grows increasingly complex, subtle and dense, it is important that we develop the tools to navigate the web of information to not only get better answers, but to ask better questions.

I have always been an inquisitive individual. Most people stop incessantly asking “why” when they are small children – my “why” phase has persisted to this day. Perhaps that is why I chose a career in science, where an inquiry based approach is the foundation of professional success. My graduate studies on the atomic structure of collagen peptides may seem to be a highly specific area of inquiry (case in point, nobody will ever read my thesis – not even my mom); however, even that precise question drew from many different areas. Protein biochemistry, X‐ray crystallography, coordination of the downstream medical implications of the genetic and molecular defects associated with collagen – all of these facets of biomedical science came together to help me frame, study and analyze my thesis work.

The best place for a curious person to work is a library, which is why I am fortunate to be OHSU’s first Biomedical Science Information Specialist.  My job is to help the research community navigate the information landscape to advance their research. The biomedical community at OHSU is dynamic, innovative and diverse – as one of the largest centers of translational research in the Pacific Northwest, OHSU conducts a wealth of interdisciplinary inquiries.  We’ve recently ramped up our efforts to promote interprofessional education, and several library faculty have been working on various committees and initiatives to help people identify the information needs of this complex landscape.

Now, most people assume that identifying information needs is an important step to answer questions. This is often true. However, in my opinion it is important to gain these skills to ask the best questions. As a child my questions where “why”‐driven; as an adult, I have developed a more sophisticated sense of inquiry. Good research not only finds an answer, it asks an intelligent question. Here at the library, we specialize in helping you find answers, but in the process we’ll help you develop sophisticated, elegant and relevant questions to better focus your research.

Authored by Jackie Wirz, Ph.D.