Maynooth University PhD Candidate Michael Cleary-Gaffney considers the importance of interdisciplinarity to humanities research, while also suggesting new approaches to the discipline in the context of the current academic climate.

The aim of research is to make both a positive impact for individuals and society. However, conducting meaningful research is an extremely complex endeavour. Put simply, for a thorough understanding of a phenomenon, researchers must breakdown that phenomenon into smaller parts. It is only when sufficient knowledge is acquired on each specific part can this knowledge be combined and a greater understanding of the whole construct can happen. This allows for a holistic understanding of the overall topic of interest.

For example, think of the development of a prosthetic limb. Although the artificial limb looks quite simple to the observer, the development of the artificial limb required the combination of multiple smaller research endeavours. For example, one researcher would have investigated the aesthetic look of the prosthetic. Another researcher would have had to investigate the mechanics of the artificial limb so that ordinary functions observed in non-artificial limbs are also observed in artificial limbs. Finally, another researcher would have investigated the psychology of how an artificial limb becomes perceived as part the body and not a foreign article attached to the body. This example, I hope, demonstrates that research is not a simple activity which occurs over night but merely an obsessive endeavour which involves years of work and the integration of multiple research findings.

The aim of this years New Perspectives Conference is to rethink the humanities, that is, not to think of our respective disciplines in isolation but instead, consider how our disciplines of study are interconnected. Considering this interconnection not only allows for a more progressive way of thinking, it also enables stronger critical research, which is insightful and contributes to a more enhanced knowledge transfer which benefits society. Take for example, the night the bank guarantee happened in Ireland. Historians will document the circumstances that led to the guarantee, economists will outline the macro/mirco economic implications of of providing the bank guarantee, whilst social psychologists will focus on how group behaviour such as group-think resulted in the particular decisions being made. Although, each of these disciplines are studying the same event, they each take a different approach in order to understand and evaluate how and why a particular decision was made. In this example, it is imperative that in order for constructive scholarly research to occur, researchers look must interrogate at the context (history), the financial implications (economics) and group dynamics (psychology) when trying to critically examine what happened and led to the decision of the bank guarantee. By doing this, a researcher can provide a more coherent analysis of what happened, what can be learnt from this and steps to be taken when future decisions are made under similar circumstances.

In order for the humanities to progress, there needs to be a paradigm shift. That is, we need to become more interdisciplinary when conducting research. This will allow us to be more critically aware of the theories we apply to our concepts and will allow us to refine these established theories so they can become more applicable to the 21st century. Adopting such an approach to humanities research will work towards changing how we conduct our research. Given the recent demise of funding to the humanities, a proactive change towards such interdisciplinarity is required.

Michael Cleary-Gaffney is a PhD doctoral researcher at the Department of Psychology at Maynooth University (MU). He graduated with a first class honours in Psychology from Maynooth University in 2013. It was here that he developed a significant interest in how sleep and our in-built circadian clock may be implicated with the onset of psychiatric conditions. After completing his undergraduate he registered as a research master’s student under the supervision of Dr Andrew Coogan where he looked at the effects that dim-light presented during the night has on the in-built circadian clock and if this results in the manifestation of depressive and anxiety-like behaviour in mice. Michael has presented his findings at conferences both nationally and internationally. Michael is interested in integrating basic and applied research and will be embarking on a PhD in the forthcoming academic year which will take an epidemiological approach to investigating the effects of home-settings light-at-night and its implications on sleep and mood disorders in humans. He is a member of the Psychological Society of Ireland, Neuroscience Ireland and the European Biological Rhythms Society.