A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to volunteer at the 38th annual conference of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies here in Ottawa. The conference attracted an extremely diverse group of international scholars with different disciplinary backgrounds. The sessions I attended all included multiple disciplinary perspectives, such as education, nursing, medicine, religion and spirituality, anthropology, neuroscience, history, philosophy, ecology, physics, economics, library sciences… the list goes on.

One of my favourite sessions was called “Disrupting our Disciplinary Identities.” These professors shared their experiences setting up an interdisciplinary general education curriculum at Champlain College, and how their roles, positions and identities shifted. Some of the professors shared how it was initially a struggle to understand their disciplinary identity within an interdisciplinary faculty. Some felt they were a group of misfit professors; scholars who perhaps wouldn’t fit in as comfortably in traditional faculties dedicated to their disciplinary backgrounds. Yet they thrived in an interdisciplinary setting. One professor described this interdisciplinary faculty as, “The Island of Misfit Toys.”

Unless I’m mistaken, the Island of Misfit Toys reference comes from the 1964 stop-motion film, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. The scene opens with a jack-in-the-box who is on the island because his name is Charley.

“No child wants to play with a Charley-in-the-box. So I had to come here.”

I’m no stranger to struggling with professional identity. I’m an RN who has worked within medical research for her entire career, and is doing a PhD in Education. I’m always at a loss when I have to introduce myself and explain what I do. I’ve become the bird on the Island of Misfit Toys.

“How would you like to be a bird that doesn’t fly? I swim!”

I always felt like a bit of a misfit toy as a nurse. Sometimes this was recognized as being a positive attribute, but more often it caused tensions. Yet as I have progressed through my career and into other disciplines, I have surprisingly become less of a misfit. The medical profession has always welcomed me with open arms, and so far education is no different. However, if I could go back in time I wouldn’t change being a nurse. The bird that swims has a different perspective from other birds and even fish. Likewise, a nurse in medical education can see things that perhaps others cannot.

Although the misfit toys in Rudolph don’t want to be on the Island, I’m quite happy here. My expedition through the Island of Misfit Scholars has been thrilling, and I can’t wait for what future adventures it has in store for me.

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