Is 'interdisciplinarity' just a buzzword used by policymakers, or does it really generate innovative concepts and surprising outcomes? In the document Pushing Back the Boundaries: Opportunities and Obstacles to Interdisciplinary Research, The Young Academy explores the theory and practice of scientific activity that transcends disciplinary boundaries, providing viable recommendations for policymakers, university administrators, academic journals, and individual researchers.
Just what constitutes interdisciplinary research? That is the basic question tackled in this exploratory study [Grensverleggend: kansen en belemmeringen voor interdisciplinair onderzoek] by The Young Academy, an independent platform made up of outstanding young researchers within the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW). The study is based on a survey and a series of interviews with members of the Young Academy. The interviews are printed at various points in the study.
According to The Young Academy, interdisciplinarity characteristically involves a change in scientific identity that leads to substantially new research questions, methods, and results. Using specific examples, the authors – health psychologist Andrea Evers, Dutch literature specialist and philosopher Lotte Jensen, and science historian Herman Paul – illustrate how a new scientific identity of this kind can have both positive and negative effects.
One major obstacle to interdisciplinary work is the discipline-oriented approach of most funding bodies and universities. That approach makes it difficult to acquire funding for this type of research, and it hampers collaboration between researchers from different backgrounds. Another obstacle is that exploring the concepts and methods of another discipline takes a lot of time, while cultural differences also mean that it takes a while before researchers “understand” one another scientifically.
The Young Academy has drawn up a series of specific recommendations in order to encourage interdisciplinary research at all levels. Individual researchers are urged to free up time to acquaint themselves with other research traditions; university administrators should reward interdisciplinary research and create the necessary facilities, ranging from well-equipped laboratories to guest professorships. Finally, policymakers are called on to expand the funding possibilities for interdisciplinary research, and scientific journals are challenged to publish interdisciplinary articles.
There is every reason to break down the barriers: interdisciplinary research contributes to scientific innovation and leads to the widening and deepening of separate disciplines. It generates cross-disciplinary knowledge and would seem to be indispensable for solving complex social issues.