GRAD 5104

Grad 5104 – Interdisciplinarity

In academia, interdisciplinarity comes up regularly. It is considered a good thing in a very particular and possibly peculiar way – your research should be interdisciplinary. However, it is not particularly clear what a discipline is and I think that the list of disciplines changes with different contexts.

Is my work interdisciplinary because it is Paleontology – a combination of sorts between biology and geology? Or is it interdisciplinary because I’m using geochemical methods (combining biology, chemistry, and geology)? If I were an evolutionary biologist would my work be inherently interdisciplinary? It would likely involve statistics, anatomy, genetics, &c.

It seems a stretch to think of academic work that wouldn’t be interdisciplinary in some context. I think you’d have to reach into the murky depths of math and physics where the gaps are still large enough for sizable gods – and even then are you interfacing with philosophy? Perhaps Philosophy is the only non-interdisciplinary field because it doesn’t pull methods from anywhere else. Then again, my consideration above likely only follows the route it does because I’m coming from paleontology.

The reason this comes to mind is that we discussed museum visits in lab meeting this morning – focusing on specimen photography. A scientist is not expected to be an expert in, but expected to be able to utilize many aspects of:

  • Disciplines as previously discussed
  • “Arts” – photography, drawing, design
  • Business – management of a lab, organization of field work
  • “Outdoorsmanship”, often
  • Pedagogy
  • Writing, writing, writing
  • Animal husbandry, often
  • PR – expressing your work to the world

And this list is not exhaustive by any means. A scientist is often expected to demonstrate interdisciplinarity in their work – but are these other skills part of that, or just some fun facts to tag on the back page of a CV?

This is one of my favorite things about being in science – I’ve spent a number of years learning geology and biology at the level of Bachelors degrees, and time after that learning pedagogy and cross-cultural skills – only to turn a corner and find out I need to become passable in at least a few types of photography. These are just the first few years of my career in science – there are so many more disciplines out there.


1 thought on “Grad 5104 – Interdisciplinarity”

  1. I agree with your sentiments on interdisciplinarity. My background is in biomedical engineering which used to be a very interdisciplinary field merging engineering and biology. Now it has established itself as its own field although undergraduates still essentially separately study engineering and biology. It seems that interdiciplinarity can be quite subjective.


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