I am at the beginning of my Ph.D. My research lies at the intersection of cognitive neuroscience and psycholinguistics, meaning that I will interact with a variety of researchers from several different fields - which should substantially broaden my horizons. However, reading the literature strictly related to those areas means I'm far less likely to keep track of developments in other areas, such as biology, physics, or computer science.

My question: how well aware should I be about major science developments that are not directly related to my area? How useful is this information for your own work?

2 Answers 2


It depends on your actual research project. Some PhD projects are quite interdisciplinary in the way they are designed (regarding topics, data, method(odology) etc.) while others 'just' talk to their own specific community (although I think, this is rarely the case).
So, to a large extent, it depends on your specific research design of your PhD project how you take into account research from other disciplines. Nevertheless, and based on my experiences as PhD student, I have found it helpful to look into other research disciplines by either talking to people who do research which might be eventually of interest for me or skip through the main journals in the related fields.
For me, (doing my PhD in political science) reading papers from Human Geography, Psychology or Computer Science is quite stimulating from time to time and shows me how other researcher think about issues that I am also interested in. I hope this comment helps you to find a middle ground of helpful interdisciplinarity and getting lost in it.
PS: I found this blog post helpful, reflecting on this issue: https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2014/feb/19/interdisciplinary-research-universities-academic-careers


Ideally, it would be good to be able to keep up with fields, but practically, I don't see how it's possible. There is so much new work constantly being produced in any one field that it would be quite challenging (though possible) for you to keep up with your two fields of cognitive neuroscience and psycholinguistics, so I think it would be very difficult to keep up with more than that.

Of course, you can skim abstracts in any number of fields that you want, but you have to really decide on how to balance or prioritize depth versus breadth. Yes, breadth is important for interdisciplinary work, but depth is critical if you want to make new contributions to knowledge, as required for a PhD. If you have an insufficiently deep understanding of cognitive neuroscience and psycholinguistics (because you've been trying to keep up with other fields, for which you have only a shallow understanding), I don't see what meaningful contributions you can make to any field. You might creatively try to combine disparate ideas, but you would quickly reveal to experts in the related fields that you don't understand any of the fields sufficiently.

My recommendation is to focus on keeping up with cognitive neuroscience and psycholinguistics and on gaining deep understanding in these two fields. For any other outside field ("such as biology, physics, or computer science"), just be an intelligent, aware person (which you seem to be already), and don't try to "keep up" with them. Rather, enjoy the fact that knowledge is so vast that no one can keep up with everything, but that at least you can meaningfully contribute to expanding knowledge by your deep interdisciplinary knowledge of two fields.

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