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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

Introduction



 

Interdisciplinary research is a topic of increased interest within the academic and scientific communities. Many researchers and organizations express positive regard for interdisciplinary approaches (Menand 2010) and view interdisciplinary research as a necessary approach to addressing increasingly complex problems (Klein 1990; Lattuca 2001). Numerous efforts have been made to promote interdisciplinary scholarship, but we know little about the nature of interdisciplinary research and those who practice it.

The term "interdisciplinary" has become a familiar one for most researchers, but there is actually no consensus on a precise definition of the term. There are multiple definitions of interdisciplinary research, and much ambiguity surrounds these definitions (Jacobs and Frickel 2009). This ambiguity and diversity of ideas makes it difficult to measure and identify interdisciplinary research, which presents a challenge to researchers wishing to study this movement that appears to be transforming the way scientific research is done. Indeed, there is no widely accepted indicator of interdisciplinary research (Wagner, Roessner, and Bobb 2009).

The National Science Foundation's Survey of Earned Doctorates offers us a valuable opportunity to address some of the unanswered questions about interdisciplinary research. This survey, which is an annual census of individuals earning research doctorates in the United States, contains the first attempt to identify doctoral students who conduct interdisciplinary research. Building on the analyses of Falkenheim (2010), we examined this indicator of interdisciplinary dissertation research in order to better understand the prevalence of and trends in interdisciplinary activities among doctoral graduates.

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