The Elusive Pursuit of Interdisciplinarity at the Human–Environment Interface

Journal or Book Title: BioScience

Keywords: interdisciplinary research; survey; coupled human and natural systems; social–ecological systems; sustainability

Volume/Issue: 63

Page Number(s): 745-753

Year Published: 2013


Environmental challenges are complex and require expertise from multiple disciplines. Consequently, there is growing interest in interdisciplinary 
environmental research that integrates natural and social science, an often arduous undertaking. We surveyed researchers interested and experienced in research at the human–environment interface to assess perspectives on interdisciplinary research. Integrative interdisciplinary research 
has eluded many of our respondents, whose efforts are better described as additive multidisciplinary research. The respondents identified many 
advantages and rewards of interdisciplinary research, including the creation of more-relevant knowledge. However, they also reported significant 
challenges and obstacles, including tension with departments (49%) or institutions (61%), communication difficulties, and differing disciplinary 
approaches, as well as institutional barriers (e.g., a lack of credit in promotion and tenure). Most (52%) believed that developing interdisciplinary 
breadth should begin as early as the undergraduate level. We apply our results to recommendations for successful interdisciplinary endeavors.

DOI: 10.1525/bio.2013.63.9.10

Type of Publication: Journal Article

Publisher: American Institute of Biological Sciences