A podcast on interdisciplinarity in water research

Presenting and reflecting on different experiences of multi-, inter-, and trans-disciplinary research, this three-episodes podcast wants to inspire IHE Delft Master students that are currently working at their thesis proposal.

At this time of the year, IHE Delft master students are busy drafting their thesis proposal. This includes reflecting on the ethical implications of their work, on their values and position as a researcher, as well as considering if and how to engage in multi-, inter- or trans-disciplinary research. For many of them it is the first time to be confronted with such issues. Therefore, in the past two years, I have been using a podcast to help them navigating these questions. Why a podcast? The idea came during the lockdown. Instead of the usual online lecture, I decided to record a podcast that students could listen while taking a break – and a breath – from sitting in their room in front of a laptop screen. Inspired by the pedagogy of American pragmatism, I called this experiment in online education “The Digital Club”, considering it a good opportunity to reflect on the pedagogical dimension of our practices of online education, and to learn about the implications of the digital tools and technologies that we use therein.

Some of the lessons learnt on the use of podcast in online education are discussed in this presentation – also in the form of a podcast – for AMPS (Architecture Media Politics and Society) conference “Online education: teaching in a time of change” (April 2021). The podcast proved as an effective tool to flip the classroom and elicit a conversation on interdisciplinarity in water research: after listing to the podcast, the students were asked to share their reflections in an online forum, and later to discuss those in class. Therefore, I believe that time has come to make the three-episodes podcast public, to continue the conversation with the current batch of students, and to open up the club beyond IHE Delft physical and digital walls.

Water ethics

The first episode of the Digital Club focuses on water ethics and ethics in water research, featuring an interview with Neelke Doorn, professor of Ethics of Water Engineering at TU Delft. We discussed her book “Water ethics, an introduction”(2019), which targets students in water engineering and invites them to engage with the ethical and moral dimensions of their work, often perceived as merely technical or seemingly neutral. In the podcast Neeelke defines water ethics as a reflection on values and morality in water governance and management. And I found her definition of values as “the things and principles we care about and consider important” clear and compelling for such reflection. In the podcast we also discuss the difference and the connections between water ethics and ethics in water research: if we consider ethics as a reflection on values, then research ethics become much more that following appropriate protocols when doing research with animals or other human beings, as sometimes the research ethics forms that we fill when submitting a research proposal seem to suggest.

I will let you discover the rest of this interesting conversation – inspired among others by these opinion piece on “Why science needs philosophy” – by listening to the podcast itself!

Interdisciplinarity to study nature and society

In the second episode, I discuss how to study the interaction between nature and society from an interdisciplinary perspective, with my colleague Gretchen Gettel, Associate Professor of Aquatic Biogeochemistry, and with her former MSc student in Environmental Science, now IHE Alumnus, Collins Muhadia. Gretchen reflected on the need for interdisciplinary research starting from her own experience. For her PhD she went to Antarctic to find uncontaminated ecosystems to study: at the time the idea was that nature should be properly studied and understood in isolation from humans and society. Nowadays the approach is the opposite: nature can only be understood by taking into consideration its interaction and entanglement with humans and society. And Colin shared relevant tips on how to study interaction between the social and the physical environment within the scope of a Master thesis. In Colin’s description of his methodology and reflection on the interdisciplinary dimension of his thesis, there was a recurrent word: gaps. He described how mixing different methods allowed him to identify, address, and overcome knowledge gaps. Some of the results of his Master thesis have been later published in this ILRI paper on Livestock and water in developing countries.

I hope that this episode will inspire students to reflect on how, in heir thesis, they can explore the entanglement between water and society, between nature and culture, and which skills they should develop in order to do that.

Trans-disciplinarity and participatory groundwater management

In the third episode, Himanshu Kulkarni and Uma Aslekar (ACWADAM, India), and Irene Leonardelli (Junior Researcher and a PhD Fellow in the Department of Water Governance at IHE Delft discuss their experience of participatory groundwater management and trans-disciplinary research in India. ACWADAM is a non-profit organisation and think-tank on water governance in India. In the podcast, Himanshu and Uma discuss why and how they collect data with the local population for participatory groundwater management in Indian villages. Irene contributes to the conversation by sharing what she learnt in observing this process for her PhD research, and by reflecting on her positionality as a young female anthropologist from Italy doing fieldwork in India.

Students interested in action research, participatory methods, as well as those who aim at contributing with their research to concrete transformations in water management and governance, will find plenty of inspiration in this episode. The conversation with Himanshu, Uma and Irene is a good reminder that designing a MSc thesis also implies reflecting on how we want to involve people and organisations in the production of knowledge, for whom this research can be relevant, and on how we should present and communicate our work to these people.

Those interested in reading more reflections by master students and their supervisors on interdisciplinarity in water research can have a look at this action research that we undertook a few years ago. And if you have experience and ideas to share, you are welcome to join and follow our Digital Club!

Features image by Terry Vlisidis on Unsplash

Cite this blog post
Emanuele Fantini (2022, October 5). A podcast on interdisciplinarity in water research. FLOWs. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/os2l

Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Department of IHE Delft. Committed to public engagement and crossover projects with artists and journalists, Emanuele coordinates the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media, science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin”, he hosts the podcasts “The Sources of the Nile”, “Water Alternatives Podcast”, and “Si dice acqua”, and he is the editor of IHE Delft Water Governance Blog, FLOWs.

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