This Month In Science

NSF Releases Report on Interdisciplinary Research and Training

The National Science Foundation has released a report, Impact of Transformative Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education on Academic Institutions, which lays out specific recommendations for how universities and granting agencies can best support interdisciplinary research and training in the coming years.

The National Science Foundation has released a report, Impact of Transformative Interdisciplinary Research and Graduate Education on Academic Institutions, which lays out specific recommendations for how universities and granting agencies can best support interdisciplinary research and training in the coming years. The report is the product of a 2008 workshop that gathered together more than 100 scientists and university administrators who have been involved in NSF-supported interdisciplinary research and training activities. Many of the recommendations and examples contained in the report will likely be useful to psychologists and psychology departments that seek to develop a more interdisciplinary approach to their work.

The report emphasizes the importance of traditional single-discipline research as well as interdisciplinary research. It suggests that universities "[o]rganize discussions about research around achieving open-ended scientific discovery and addressing social challenges rather than framing discussions in terms of disciplinary versus interdisciplinary science" and that funding agencies "[m]aintain a balance of funding between disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, emphasizing scientific problems as the major determinant in the types of funding programs in the portfolio."

Drawing from the experiences of a wide range of academic programs, the report discusses organizational mechanisms for encouraging, sustaining, and evaluating interdisciplinary research; incentives and support for faculty engaging in interdisciplinary and collaborative research, including promotion and tenure guidelines; the design and funding of graduate programs for interdisciplinary training; and undergraduate preparation for interdisciplinary graduate training.

For funding agencies, the report recommends that interdisciplinary research be encouraged at the level of regular single-project grants as well as of large center grants. It also suggests that agencies call upon peer reviewers who have engaged in interdisciplinary research themselves, rather than relying on multiple reviews by scientists from single disciplines.

The APA Board of Scientific Affairs (BSA) recently made recommendations for fostering interdisciplinary work by psychologists that are broadly consistent with those in the NSF report (see January PSA). The BSA and Science Directorate will continue to develop activities and resources for the field that support the growth of interdisciplinary research and training.