Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research
Many research challenges today require interdisciplinary teams with strong foundations in discipline-based research capabilities. Most interdisciplinary activity is bottom-up and driven by the complexity of research challenges that require multiple disciplines working collectively to solve the problem. The benefits and necessity of IDR is recognized by Government and supported by the UK Research Councils. Performing interdisciplinary research (IDR) however requires talented leadership, startup time, sustained and open communication, appropriate rewards and incentives and above all willingness to collaborate and share ideas.
Many simple methods are used to enhance and facilitate cross-disciplinary research:
- Establishment of Research Networks
- Examples of Interdisciplinary Activities
- Pump-priming Funding
- Translators and Faciltators
- Discipline Hopping
- Interdisciplinary Appointments
A network typically comprises staff from several academic Schools and provide for sustainable productive collaborations. A number of research networks have been established at Cardiff University and allow members to Identify research opportunities in advance of normal announcements . Successful networks are often led by an academic Champion or small steering group who are prepared to dedicate part of their time to leadership and coordination of the Network's activity. Some of these networks build on long established areas of collaboration whilst others bring together researchers who were not aware of their shared interest before joining the network. Active networks are often better prepared to respond to calls for research proposal than individuals looking to find partners.
Networks have been involved in arranging:
- Seminars and workshops
- Public lectures
- Research collaboration meetings
- Knowledge transfer opportunities
- Innovative grant applications
These are open discussion fora typically arranged on a monthly basis that focus on different themes with multi-disciplinary appeal. The aims of such Cafes are to meet, socialize and get to know each other ; encourage research, scholarship and creativity across, between and beyond existing schools and where relevant arrange seminars, conferences, workshops, performances and other events to further these aims. Together with Sandpits and dedicated workshops, these events allow members to discuss funding schemes and emerging issues and seek mutual support and collaboration opportunities.
Challenge or problem based workshops involving 20-30 participants with a mixture of senior PIs and post grads often provide a productive multidisciplinary mix of participants that can lead to the generation of novel ideas, solutions and collaborations. Such workshops often arise in response to specific large scale funding calls or university initiatives.
A “Sandpit “is a residential workshop typically arranged over several days involving 20-30 participants. An essential element of a sandpit is the highly multidisciplinary mix of participants, some being active researchers and some being potential users of research outcomes. This helps to drive lateral thinking and radical approaches to addressing particular research challenges.
Speed-networking is a recent way of forging new research, academic and business contacts that has led to some fresh ideas being generated and collaborations being established. The premise is a simple one: colleagues match up with colleagues from other disciplines and areas of the University who they would probably not otherwise have met but with whom they have some area of shared research for a for a very short time- typically just a few minutes. Speed-Networking Events can often focus on a specific themes, and exposure to researchers sharing similar interests can be maximised through careful planning of the sequence in which ‘speed-networkers’ meet.
Theme based Conferences or Seminars
Conferences and seminars can engage large numbers of participants and can involve presentations and discussion from researchers from a number of different disciplines. Attendees gain expertise and information from multiple disciplines and perspectives on their area of research.
Current opportunities to participate in Interdisciplinary Research Council Sandpits will be advertised in the Funding Opportunities Section of the Interdisciplinary Webpages
Current Interdisciplinary Conferences and Meetings hosted by Cardiff University can be found in the Meetings and Conferences Section of the Interdisciplinary Webpages
There is a series of current initiatives available for small start up groups or networks of researchers to assist (in addition to School support ) with the organisation of Inter or Multi-disciplinary conferences and meetings at Cardiff University:
Communication and facilitation are vital roles in the organisation of inter / multi disciplinary activities, which by there nature, tend to be ad hoc.
For Cardiff University Academic Researchers with experience of Interdisciplinary Grants willing to offer advice on interdisciplinary work click here
These staff mobility programmes have been supported by the Research Councils and some Charities and allow staff to spend time working in other departments, with a view to expanding their own expertise and hopefully exporting knowledge to their host discipline. While in residence staff typically pursue academic research as well as contributing to the intellectual life of their host discipline and / or University.
Potential Funding Sources for Discipline Hopping Include:
- RCUK People Exchange Programs
- BBSRC Discipline Hopping Initiative Annual Competition
- MRC Discipline Hopping Initiative Annual Competition
- EPSRC Discipline Hopping Initiative in ICT Open Call
Examples of International Discipline Hopping Schemes Include:
The formalisation of interdisciplinary relationships by the appointment of joint staff can benefit all parties involved as well as the Institution as a whole.