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National Science Foundation National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics
Trends in Interdisciplinary Dissertation Research: An Analysis of the Survey of Earned Doctorates

Abstract



 

This working paper used data from the National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates to identify trends in the reporting of interdisciplinary dissertation research among doctoral graduates in the United States from 2001–08. These analyses were based on responses to a questionnaire item asking for respondents' field or fields of dissertation research. From 2001–08, 28.4% of doctoral graduates reported two or more fields of dissertation research, which, for the purposes of this report, indicates that their research is interdisciplinary. There were no dramatic fluctuations in the rate of interdisciplinary dissertations across each of the eight years in this analysis; the annual rates ranged from 27.7% to 30.0%. However, the data indicated that the rate at which doctoral graduates report interdisciplinary research varies across disciplines. A majority of respondents who reported two fields of research included two fields that are closely related to each other. However, when the wording of the question changed in 2004, the percentage of respondents reporting multiple fields that are not closely related to each other increased. This suggests that changes in the wording of the question elicited different types of responses. Furthermore, the diversity of fields contained within a given knowledge domain category also seemed to affect the rate at which respondents reported two unrelated fields of research. These analyses suggest that interdisciplinary research comprises a significant proportion of dissertation research projects, but there is need for further exploration of the meaning of the questions used to identify interdisciplinary research.

 
Trends in Interdisciplinary Dissertation Research: An Analysis of the Survey of Earned Doctorates
Working Paper | NCSES 12-200 | April 2012