The Value of Interdisciplinary Research

Duke University/Jeff MacInnes

Duke University/Jeff MacInnes

The term “Interdisciplinary research” has been a buzzword in the labs and halls of academic departments around the world. But what exactly is interdisciplinary research? The National Science Foundation (NSF) defines it as “A mode of research by teams or individuals that integrates information, data, techniques, tools, perspectives, concepts, and/or theories from two or more disciplines or bodies of specialised knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice.” 

The NSF recognises that important research ideas often transcend the scope of a single discipline or program, pushing fields forward and accelerating scientific discovery. But such interdisciplinary research is not easy to achieve, specially in big campuses where is more common to find clustered islands instead of real interdisciplinary teams. 

With that in mind, a number of scholars at Duke University have attempted to bring more clarity to the subject. Simon Baker from Times Higher Education, wrote an article about Scholars@Duke, an interactive map of the campus that show the subjects and departments where interdisciplinary work at the institution is strongest.

Scholars@Duke features the research, scholarship and activities of Duke faculty members and academic staff. The platform displays web profiles and displays their connections with colleagues. Visitors can search for faculty members by name, keyword or subject area or anything on their profile.

It has been proved that proximity influence collaboration. In 1970, a work by Thomas Allen, professor at MIT, revealed that the frequency of communication between two engineers decreased as the distance between their desks grew. Nowadays researchers have more ways than ever to communicate and interact, nevertheless, collaboration within university research teams is still a challenge.