How do inter- and trans- disciplinary researchers talk about themselves? Do these narratives disrupt the status-quo and help integrate inter- and trans- disciplinarity into current academic institutions?
Below, we describe three narratives that can be applied to how inter- and trans- disciplinary researchers talk about themselves, namely as:
By Mareike Smolka, Erik Fisher and Alexandra Hausstein
Have you ever had a fleeting impression of seeing certainty disrupted, the impulse to laugh when your expectations were broken, or a startling sense of something being both familiar and foreign at the same time?
As social scientists engaged in collaborative studies with natural scientists and engineers, we have had these experiences repeatedly while doing research.
How are interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity faring in India and Brazil? How do they differ from interdisciplinarity and transdisciplinarity in the Global North? Are there particular lessons to be drawn from India and Brazil for the global interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary communities?
India and Brazil are among the most prominent countries of the Global South in the worldwide academic scene. Both have problems in common, but they have also singularities.
The focus in both countries at the institutional level tends to be on what is referred to as interdisciplinarity. The emergence of a new generation of liberal universities and other academic institutions open to interdisciplinary scholarship has allowed a small cohort of interdisciplinary scholars to emerge.
Why do some collaborators in interdisciplinary teamwork clash? And why does collaboration between others seem smooth but not yield anything? What causes these differences in collaboration, and how can this inform interventions to support interdisciplinary collaboration and integration?
When we started teaching an interdisciplinary masters course, we expected it to become a battlefield, based on our reading of countless lists of the challenges of interdisciplinary collaboration. We thought that the students’ diverse study backgrounds – ranging from arts to medicine, and from social sciences to mathematics – would cause tensions; that they would disagree with each other about theories and methods that they were unfamiliar with and held opinions about.
One of the most substantial structural changes and investments to support interdisciplinarity within universities has been the widespread establishment of research institutes. Many have made the pursuit of interdisciplinary collaboration a central goal in their research mission. Biancani and colleagues (2014) have likened research institutes to a semi-formal organisation occupying a plane between the formal university and informal research teams. Membership of the semi-formal organisation is voluntary and researchers and groups can flexibly come together for short or long periods and depart when no longer needed.
How do these entities establish collaborative communities, and create the conditions necessary for effective interdisciplinary research?
How can universities use their broad array of expertise to help in understanding and addressing complex challenges, including pandemics, environmental degradation, poverty and climate change?
For more than a decade, we have been engaged in an innovative collaboration with more than 200 faculty from nearly 30 academic disciplines to align university research with societal needs. We conceived of this initiative as an “institutional experiment,” in which our public university in the US state of Maine served as the “laboratory.”
Given Maine’s priorities and our collective expertise, we focused these problem-solving efforts on the challenge of sustainable development, which requires a dual focus on improving human well-being and protecting the environment.
How can knowledge integration for addressing societal challenges be mapped, ‘measured’ and assessed?
In this blog post I argue that measuring averages or aggregates of ‘interdisciplinarity’ is not sufficiently focused for evaluating research aimed at societal contributions. Instead, one should take a portfolio approach to analyze knowledge integration as a systemic process over research landscapes; in particular, focusing on the directions, diversity and synergies of research trajectories.
Indicators of interdisciplinarity are increasingly requested. Yet efforts to make aggregate indicators have repeatedly failed due to the diversity and ambiguity of understandings of the notion of interdisciplinarity. What if, instead of universal indicators, a contextualised process of indicating interdisciplinarity was used?
In this blog post I briefly explore the failure of attempts to identify universal indicators and the importance of moving from indicatORS to indicatING. By this I mean: An assessment of specific interdisciplinary projects or programs for indicating where and how interdisciplinarity develops as a process, given the particular understandings relevant for the specific policy goals.
This reflects the notion of directionality in research and innovation, which is gaining hold in policy.
How can significant challenges associated with doing interdisciplinary research be overcome? What are the best ways to build institutional capacity and structures that support interdisciplinary research?
We have identified five key organizational features that enable successful interdisciplinary research. These are based on an evaluation of the Centre for Marine Socioecology in Tasmania, Australia, which brings together disciplinary expertise in physics, law, economics, biology, sociology and governance. We obtained perspectives across all disciplines and career stages from PhD students to the leadership team.
The five organizational features, also shown in the figure below, are:
What interdisciplinary competencies are required for innovation? How can such interdisciplinary competencies be implemented to foster innovation?
Keys to stimulating innovation are cultivating interdisciplinary mindsets and skillsets. Interdisciplinary mindsets involve recognizing diverse knowledge to enable collaboration to enhance collective creativity, whereas interdisciplinary skillsets embrace relational competencies, work experiences, the sciences, humanities, trades and technologies. Integrating such diverse knowledge and skills is key to innovation.
Strategies for implementing interdisciplinary competencies
What are the attitudinal, behavioral, and cognitive issues that influence interdisciplinary collaborations?
The illustrations I provide here are based upon 20 years of experience working in research environments with scholars ranging from philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists, to historians, economists, and ecologists, to psychologists, computer scientists, and neuroscientists. This experience has helped to illuminate what creates challenges during interdisciplinary interactions and what also can contribute to effective collaborations and help scholars learn from each other.
Often times interaction is stifled when collaborators maintain some form of disciplinary disdain. The characteristics of disciplinary disdain include lack of respect or a form of contempt for another disciplinary approach, or condescension toward another discipline. An example is the view basic researchers sometimes show for applied research.