This may be quite a difficult question to answer in general, but I suspect that the answer is "yes" as less-well-defined discipline boundaries mean having to read more to cover all bases.

Can anyone with experience of both within- and across-discipline research weigh in on the matter?

  • I think the problem is not so much reading and assimilating the literature, but rather finding what is important and relevant across multiple different fields. It will be hard enough to keep up with what is happening in your own specialty; how much harder will it be to keep up in multiple fields! Solution: don't try to do everything yourself, but build a network of experts in other disciplines who you can collaborate with. And let everyone do their own reading (with frequent high-level exchanges). Apr 4, 2014 at 11:01
  • @StephanKolassa How would a interdisciplinary graduate student build a network of researchers to write their dissertation and let everyone do their own reading? Doesn't seem realistic to me. My committee is absolutely interdisciplinary but they would kick me out if I asked them to do my readings.
    – Shion
    Apr 4, 2014 at 11:15
  • @Shion: if your committee is interdisciplinary, you already have contacts, which is great! Go talk to your committee members' grad students! Of course, everyone should start looking for collaborators at his own hierarchy level. (And make sure all supervisors are fine with interdisciplinary research taking up capacity - maybe you can turn this situation into a grant proposal?) Apr 4, 2014 at 11:21

1 Answer 1


Caveat: I am a current graduate student.

I have a very interdisciplinary committee. My home department is information science and my committee members are from electrical and computer engineering, communication and statistics.

My research stands at the intersection of social network analysis, privacy and surveillance studies and spatial statistics. I defended my dissertation proposal late last year and my literature review was ~50 pages with over 250 references drawn from 6 disparate areas.

Some of my other colleagues who work in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) (itself a rather interdisciplinary field) have lit reviews around the 40 page mark.

I constantly feel that there is always more to read and really important classical literature on privacy (dating from the 1700s) that I should read but haven't read in depth.

Before, committing to a dissertation in this field, I used to work in theoretical statistics, specifically estimation theory. My readings were focused and significantly lesser in number than the juggernaut that my annotated bibliography has turned out to be.

Perhaps, more pertinent, TOREAD folder used to have 2-4 articles at any given time. Now, that is anything from 8-10 in addition to 1-2 books at any given time.

Therefore, in response to your specific question, Yes!, it feels like I have to read more now that I work in an interdisciplinary space to "cover" all the bases.

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