Efforts to promote interdisciplinary research that addresses complex interactions between humans and their environment have become commonplace in recent years, but success is often elusive. To better understand the obstacles facing natural and social scientists attempting such work, Eric D. Roy of Louisiana State University and seven coauthors from a variety of institutions surveyed researchers at all career stages who were interested and experienced in such research. Roy and his coauthors report their findings in the September issue of BioScience.
The 323 respondents, most of them from North America, largely agreed that interdisciplinary research yielded valuable benefits, including the development of new kinds of knowledge. But many said that their efforts to achieve truly integrative interdisciplinary research had been unsuccessful, and had resulted in merely additive research that, although it involved multiple disciplines, preserved the typical separate concerns of each one.
Researchers who responded to the survey most often reported new perspectives and intellectual stimulation as benefits of interdisciplinary research. But a majority reported experiencing tensions with departments and institutions, and most reported difficulty publishing research results because they did not fit within traditional disciplinary boundaries. Researchers also reported tension with collaborators arising from their different methods, theories, or approaches, but this was less common than tension with departments and institutions. Communication problems and difficulties with time allocation and funding were identified as the greatest obstacles to interdisciplinary research.
When Roy and his colleagues asked about institutional support for interdisciplinary research, limits to career advancement and lack of credit for promotion and tenure were the most commonly mentioned barriers. Natural scientists and social scientists agreed on the nature of the obstacle
|Contact: Tim Beardsley|
American Institute of Biological Sciences