As noted in Derek Bok's "Higher Education in America," there is a trend in increased funding for large interdisciplinary research programs since the 1970's (Think NSF MRSEC, for example).

What is the root cause or viewpoint for a shift towards this style of funding, as compared to single-PI research grant? Additionally, if this trend continues, administrators will increasingly pressure their departments into focusing on this type of funding source. Will academia eventually approach a similar climate to a national lab (ie, large teams working on interdisciplinary projects)?

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    I am not sure the premise is correct, but maybe it is a scheme to reduce the number of applications that must be processed? Apr 14, 2018 at 7:15
  • Maybe "interdisciplinary" is a direct result of "large". Apr 14, 2018 at 7:18
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    The initial premise is paraphrased from Derek Bok's book "Higher Education in America," revised edition circa 2013.
    – User2341
    Apr 14, 2018 at 18:36
  • Also, to address anonymous physicist, you'd need to define the way in which you mean large. I don't think "interdisciplinary" is a result of large. To address user153812's comment, I have changed the fifth tag from NSF to united-states. However, I'm not convinced that this is purely an american trend.
    – User2341
    Apr 14, 2018 at 18:41
  • there was some research publication in which was postulated and confirmed that interdisciplinary is desirable.
    – SSimon
    Apr 15, 2018 at 2:31

2 Answers 2


Personal experience, and a lot of inspiration from nature (I'm a biologist) suggests that interdisciplinary teams can view a single problem from different perspectives. This enables teams with varying knowledge to attack a problem from the easiest angle.

For example,

When Canadians faced the problem of snow accumulating and freezing on power lines, men were sent up power-poles armed with poles of their own with a hook on the end to shake off the snow. When they were complaining about how tough the job was to each other (and coming up with pole & climbing related ideas to make the work easier), the secretary to the manager overseeing their work chimed in to say that when she was a nurse in the army, she'd seen the downdraft from helicopters knock objects around with ease.

Her fresh perspective introduced a new line of thought that would not have otherwise been introduced into the problem solving atmosphere.

When you're a hammer, every problem begins to look like a nail. When you're a toolbox full of different tools, however......

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    I think you're answering something like "why are interdisciplinary teams effective?" which is a different question. To me this doesn't explain why the NSF, say, or many US universities now are so high on interdisciplinary research. I would guess the real answer is closer to something like: "oh, that sounds like a big impressive word that we can impress people with."
    – Kimball
    Apr 21, 2018 at 19:52
  • I agree that interdisciplinary work is common and good. However, funding has historically focused on single PI grants, and now is shifting away. Thus the real question is why we are shifting towards these style grants compared to single PI.
    – User2341
    Apr 21, 2018 at 20:45

Perhaps because interdisciplinarity is a trending upstream from our innovation-reliant society to our education systems, which are trying to catch up and more properly prepare students for ecosystems that not only produce but require interdisciplinarity. I'll reference a LinkedIn article "Inter-disciplinarity in Higher Education" by Nariman M. to maybe better illustrate my point. PS I have yet to read Bok, so thank you for mentioning his work.

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    I think your argument, that it helps for interdisciplinary ecosystems, is a decent argument if you mean to imply it is in preparation for the workforce. However, I still find this to be a sort of unsatisfying answer. I feel like I'm still missing something
    – User2341
    Apr 20, 2018 at 1:40
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    Is this a parody answer where you try to cram as many buzzwords as possible?
    – user9646
    Apr 20, 2018 at 7:38
  • User2341, may be because I didn't verbalize well the connections, the common threads of interdisciplinarity/interdisciplinary approach from research and its funding to the community, economy at large. I probably relied too much on the reader's ability to deduct my response. Didn't want to be long-winded.
    – C. Love
    Apr 21, 2018 at 13:39
  • Sorry deduce, not deduct.
    – C. Love
    Apr 21, 2018 at 13:54
  • I mean potentially, but at this point we are just speculating.
    – User2341
    Apr 21, 2018 at 20:47

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