APA's strategic plan includes both expanding psychology's role in advancing health and increasing psychology's recognition as a science. To successfully address these two goals, psychology must become a bigger player in interdisciplinary science. In 2004, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) published a groundbreaking report, Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research. In that report, interdisciplinary research was defined 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 specialized knowledge to advance fundamental understanding or to solve problems whose solutions are beyond the scope of a single discipline or area of research practice." Science is becoming more interdisciplinary because many research problems, as well as the major challenges facing society, are so complex that they cannot be answered by a single discipline. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Roadmap also focused on "Research Teams of the Future" made up of investigators from many disciplines, combining their skills and knowledge to accelerate discovery. NIH has set aside funds "to change academic research culture such that interdisciplinary approaches and team science spanning various biomedical and behavioral specialties are encouraged and rewarded".
There are many barriers to interdisciplinary science. Although new scientists are often interested in this approach, universities are organized by departments, silos of scientific disciplines, often with little or no financial incentives to engage in interdisciplinary science or teaching. Promotion and tenure committees reward single-author or first-author papers in the top journals within the department's discipline; products of interdisciplinary science teams are typically co-authored by multiple authors, often large in number. Top journals within a discipline are often narrowly focused and do not provide a good publication home for interdisciplinary efforts. Often, there are few mechanisms to hire new faculty in positions that cross department lines. Within this academic environment, established scientists who mentor the next generation often do not have the skills or the interest to move into new interdisciplinary areas of inquiry. Consequently, the next generation of scientists finds it difficult to acquire the necessary training to function effectively on interdisciplinary science teams.
Psychology faces all of these issues. Perhaps worse, psychology is often left out of interdisciplinary science teams because other disciplines do not consider psychology when identifying team members. Even when a psychologist asks to become part of a team, he or she may be met with skepticism by other team members who consider themselves to be the "real" scientists. Psychology must address both the considerable institutional barriers to interdisciplinary science and train the next generation of psychological scientists to effectively advocate for psychology as a science. In my experience, other scientists do come to value the psychological expertise I bring to the team, but only after I have demonstrated its value with good science!
The Facilitating Interdisciplinary Science report called upon professional societies to seriously address impediments to interdisciplinary science. I am pleased that APA focused its 2011 Education Leadership Conference on this issue. In addition, APA's Board of Scientific Affairs and Board of Educational Affairs appointed a joint task force to develop recommendations for training psychologists for interdisciplinary team science. In response to this effort, I am establishing an interorganizational work group to identify structural barriers within the academy that impede psychology's participation in interdisciplinary team science as one of my presidential initiatives. The goal is not only to identify barriers—such as hiring practices, promotion and tenure requirements, and funding formulas—but to identify solutions. There are a host of creative models that have successfully been used to increase both interdisciplinary science and teaching within the academy; our interest will be those that include psychology. By articulating models and solutions, APA will provide its own roadmap for increasing psychology's role in interdisciplinary science.