Doing a transdisciplinary PhD? Four tips to convince the examiners about your data

By Jane Palmer, Dena Fam, Tanzi Smith and Jenny Kent

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1. Jane Palmer (biography)
2. Dena Fam (biography)
3. Tanzi Smith (biography)
4. Jenny Kent (biography)

How can research writing best be crafted to present transdisciplinarity? How can doctoral candidates effectively communicate to examiners a clear understanding of ‘data’, what it is and how the thesis uses it convincingly?

The authors have all recently completed transdisciplinary doctorates in the field of sustainable futures and use this experience to highlight the challenges of crafting a convincing piece of research writing that also makes claims of transdisciplinarity (Palmer et al., 2018). We propose four strategies for working with data convincingly when undertaking transdisciplinary doctoral research.

Read moreDoing a transdisciplinary PhD? Four tips to convince the examiners about your data

Overcoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments

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Machiel Keestra (biography)

By Machiel Keestra

How can we adequately prepare and train students to navigate transdisciplinary environments? How can we develop hybrid spaces in our universities that are suitable for transdisciplinary education?

These questions were considered by a plenary panel, which I organised and chaired at the International Transdisciplinarity Conference 2017 at Leuphana University, Germany. Three major educational requirements were identified:

  • long-term collaborations with businesses, as well as non-governmental, governmental and community organisations
  • teaching particular dispositions and competencies
  • preparing students for intercultural endeavours.

Read moreOvercoming a paradox? Preparing students for transdisciplinary environments

Learning to tackle wicked problems through games / Aprendiendo a hacer frente a problemas perversos a través de los juegos/ Apprendre à affronter les problèmes sournois à travers les jeux

By Claude Garcia, Anne Dray and Patrick Waeber

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Claude Garcia (biography)

A Spanish version and a French version of this post are available

Can we help the next generation of policy makers, business leaders and citizens to become creative, critical and independent thinkers? Can we make them aware of the nature of the problems they will be confronted with? Can we strengthen their capacity to foster and lead stakeholder processes to address these problems?

Read moreLearning to tackle wicked problems through games / Aprendiendo a hacer frente a problemas perversos a través de los juegos/ Apprendre à affronter les problèmes sournois à travers les jeux

Ten lessons from a transdisciplinary PhD program in sustainable development

By Marianne Penker

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Marianne Penker (biography)

Should a doctoral student specialise in transdisciplinary sustainable development research? What are the opportunities and challenges associated with undertaking a program that requires research integration and implementation?

At the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Vienna in Austria, teams of PhD-students and academic supervisors collaborated with representatives from regions, cities, public authorities, businesses or civil society to solve pressing and often wicked sustainability problems. We learnt the following ten lessons.

Read moreTen lessons from a transdisciplinary PhD program in sustainable development

The strength of failing (or how I learned to love ugly babies)

By Randall J. Hunt

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Randall J. Hunt (biography)

How to give others your hard-won insights so that their work can be more informed, efficient, and effective? As I’ve gotten older, it is something that I think about more.

It is widely recognized that the environment is an integrated but also “open” system. As a result, when working with issues relating to the environment we are faced with the unsatisfying fact that we won’t know “truth”. We develop an understanding that is consistent with what we currently know and what we consider state-of-the-practice methods. But, we can never be sure that more observations or different methods would not result in different insights.

Read moreThe strength of failing (or how I learned to love ugly babies)

Advice to graduate students on becoming “translational”

By Alexis Erwin

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Alexis Erwin (biography)

In an earlier post on this blog, Mark Brunson posed the questions: How does an ecologist become “translational”? What training is needed to venture beyond the lab or university and to engage with the potential beneficiaries or users of research? Here I offer my own thoughts as someone who started working to “become translational” halfway through a traditional ecology Ph.D. program.

Although the focus of this blog post is on translational ecology and on specific resources for graduate students in the U.S., I suggest the ideas are more widely applicable.

Read moreAdvice to graduate students on becoming “translational”

Social science identities in interdisciplinary research and education

By Eric Toman

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Eric Toman (biography)

What does it mean to include ‘a social scientist’ in a team tackling complex problems? Here I focus on complex environmental problems and how biophysical and social scientists work together. I’m curious if social scientists face the same issues in other problem areas, such as health.

Things have improved since my early academic career, when I was often asked to justify why a social scientist deserved a seat at the table when discussing environmental questions. It seemed that even supportive natural scientists were motivated to engage their social science colleagues only to ‘fix’ some type of problem caused by people (e.g., politicians, decision-makers, managers, the “general public”).

While it’s now normal for social scientists to be included, they tend to be lumped together, unlike the biophysical scientists who are differentiated into a range of disciplines with relevant specialization areas.

Read moreSocial science identities in interdisciplinary research and education

A process model for teaching interdisciplinary research

By Machiel Keestra

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Machiel Keestra (biography)

How can we effectively teach interdisciplinary research to undergraduate and masters students? What is needed to encompass research ranging from cultural analysis of an Etruscan religious symbol to the search for a sustainable solution for tomato farming in drying areas? Given that there is no predetermined set of theories, methods and insights, as is the case with disciplinary research, what would an interdisciplinary textbook cover? How can such a textbook accommodate the fact that interdisciplinary research usually requires students to collaborate with each other, for which they also need to be able to articulate their own cognitive processes?

Read moreA process model for teaching interdisciplinary research

Training translational ecologists: Moving from accidental to intentional

Mark Brunson
Mark Brunson (biography)

By Mark Brunson

How does an ecologist become translational? What training is needed to venture beyond the lab or university and to engage with the potential beneficiaries or users of their research? To communicate with (and listen to) a lay audience, advise policymaking processes, initiate a citizen science project, or involve stakeholders in the design, analysis, and interpretation of research?

William Schlesinger (2010), in coining the term translational ecology, warned that “[u]nless the discoveries of ecological science are rapidly translated into meaningful actions, they will remain quietly archived while the biosphere degrades.”

Read moreTraining translational ecologists: Moving from accidental to intentional

Transdisciplinarity: Learning together to teach together

By BinBin Pearce, Carolina Adler and Christian Pohl

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BinBin Pearce (biography)

Are there innovative methods that enable students to frame and confront the complexity of real-world problems in the context of sustainable development? Which learning approaches help students engage with design thinking to understand a particular system, and also to start thinking about responsible solutions? Which approaches enable students to reflect on their own actions, as well as become aware of the importance of diverse stakeholder perspectives and how these play out in real-world contexts?

Read moreTransdisciplinarity: Learning together to teach together

Let’s play: Co-creating award courses for designing, teaching, researching, and facilitating transdisciplinarity – Transacademic Interface Managers as an example

By Katja Brundiers and Arnim Wiek

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Katja Brundiers (biography)
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Arnim Wiek (biography)

Tanja Golja and Dena Fam concluded their article ‘Supporting academics learning to design, teach and research td-programs in higher education‘ with an invitation to other higher education and research institutions to share the state of play and their opportunities for collaboration. We are excited to respond to this call.

At Arizona State University (U.S.) various programs exist – across its schools and colleges – that allow students to work in transdisciplinary settings. These programs are avant-garde in many respects, e.g., pedagogical design, students’ learning outcomes, relationships with practice partners, implementation with real-world impact. Our experience with building a transdisciplinary and solution-oriented learning program at the School of Sustainability is documented in the article ‘Integrating Problem-and Project-based Learning into Sustainability Programs‘.

However, our examination of such programs internationally (PDF 840KB) shows that – with a few exceptions – many similar programs don’t entail a specific and scholarly-based transdisciplinary training module for students.

Read moreLet’s play: Co-creating award courses for designing, teaching, researching, and facilitating transdisciplinarity – Transacademic Interface Managers as an example

Supporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?

By Tanja Golja and Dena Fam

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Tanja Golja’s biography
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Dena Fam (biography)

In their 2013 report on the significance of transdisciplinary approaches to advance scientific discovery and address formidable societal challenges (PDF 700KB), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) put out a call to “expand education paradigms to model transdisciplinary approaches” (p. xiii). Ought we be considering whether transdisciplinary approaches might reconfigure education paradigms, and if so, why?

Read moreSupporting academics’ learning to design, teach and research transdisciplinary programs in higher education: What’s the state of play?