NSF Study Looks at Who Does Interdisciplinary Research
U.S. graduate students in the agricultural sciences are more likely than those in other fields to carry out interdisciplinary research, according to a first-ever analysis of the issue by the National Science Foundation. And the Massachusetts Institute of Technology leads the nation in the percentage of its doctoral students whose dissertations involve more than one discipline.
But beyond that, it's not clear what the data say about this important subject. It's an article of faith among science policymakers that interdisciplinary research is essential to address society's most pressing technological challenges, from energy independence to improved health care. But don't ask them to measure it.
The National Academies' upcoming assessment of doctoral research programs, for example, asked departments what percentage of their faculty members were associated with other programs. But the data "aren't very satisfactory," says Charlotte Kuh, study director. Part of the problem is the fuzzy definition of an interdisciplinary program,she adds.
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