February 2012 Archives

Questions without borders

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I attended a forum at the UMN called “Questions without borders: why future research and teaching will be interdisciplinary.” As an interdisciplinary scholar myself, it's a topic that holds a lot of interest for me. The main remarks were by Myron Gutmann from the National Science Foundation. His unit recently released a report called Rebuilding the Mosaic which collects white papers on cross-cutting research and innovative directions for the future. His talk addressed the ways in which the types of problems we're facing in areas like the environment increasingly call for interdisciplinary solutions, while acknowledging the obstacles to interdisciplinary work. He used the field of Materials Science as an example of an interdisciplinary field of study that became established in academia. He shared that less that 2.5% of bachelor's degrees and less than 1% of master's degrees are interdisciplinary. With that as our reality, he posed these questions:

  • How do we effectively measure interdisciplinary research and teaching?
  • How can we create a safe space for adventuresome faculty?
  • What is the appropriate reward structure, for students and faculty?

Gutmann thinks that new data management capacities make interdisciplinary problems newly tractable. Fields of study are not static; new ones are formed, changed, and phased out as the science advances. Through his research, Gutmann believes these are the things that make interdisciplinary work happen:

  • Shared intellectual problem
  • Agency leadership and resources
  • Organizational change within science organizations

Three University of Minnesota faculty members gave 5-minute responses to Gutmann's remarks.