University Leaders Issue Statement on Interdisciplinarity in Graduate Education and Research

Leaders of graduate institutions from 14 countries have agreed on a set of principles supporting interdisciplinary learning in graduate education. 

University Leaders Issue Statement on Interdisciplinarity in Graduate Education and Research

The statement was released at the conclusion of the Eighth Annual Global Summit on Graduate Education, Interdisciplinary Learning in Graduate Education and Research,” co-hosted by the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) and Memorial University of Newfoundland. The Global Summit is an annual event designed to promote international best practices in master’s and doctoral education.

The theme of the conference was chosen by an international steering committee to recognize that complex questions in a global society cannot be answered using a single method or approach. Master’s and doctoral students will be called upon to approach these questions as researchers, and graduate institutions are challenged to prepare them to conduct research and collaborate beyond the bounds of one academic discipline.

Summit participants shared examples and background on the national and international context for interdisciplinary learning in their countries and institutions. Executive member Stef Thorne attending the conference on behalf of the UK Council for Graduate Education. Her presentation Engaging academic staff in the supervision of interdisciplinary doctoral degree programmes in the UK: Turning round the super tanker of monodisciplinarity’, was well received amid other papers which discussed Building Interdisciplinary Degree Programs’. Stef’s paper was co-authored by Professor Mick Fuller, Chair of the UKCGE and reflected on the many challenges within the UK HE context to fostering academic engagement with interdisciplinary supervision and examination — many of which are historical and related to established norms for assessing research quality.

Session topics addressed the organizational and adminstrative challenges to supporting interdisciplinary methods, including:

  • creating institutional cultures that value interdisciplinary learning;
  • structures for interdisciplinary research and collaboration within science, technology engineering and mathematics (STEM) and the humanities, as well as across broad fields;
  • assessment of learning outcomes;
  • innovations in program design, including tuition allocation, credit requirements, advising of interdisciplinary students, and informal and extracurricular opportunities for interdisciplinary learning; and,
  • new models for funding interdisciplinary programs, including partnerships with public, private, and non-profit funders. 

Dr. Noreen Golfman, provost and vice-president (academic) pro tempore and dean of Graduate Studies at Memorial University, commented that, We tend to agree on the importance of interdisciplinarity as a concept, but practicing interdisciplinary teaching, research, and learning presents real challenges for graduate schools and administrators. This week we established a set of principles to guide graduate communities when considering how best to incorporate interdisciplinary learning and research as core values in their academic programs.” 

CGS President Suzanne T. Ortega noted, The questions that will advance human knowledge often lie at the boundaries of current disciplines, so interdisciplinary knowledge and ways of thinking are central to today’s master’s and doctoral education. It is essential that graduate students learn to communicate across disciplines in the full variety of contexts they will encounter throughout their careers.”

Stef Thorne has put together a blog about her experience of the conference and concluded that, we should find a similar opportunity within the UK to reflect on the challenges inherent within interdisciplinarity and the output of this Summit (both within the UKCGE and within our own institutional contexts), if we are to increasingly find that many of the pressing research problems facing humanity may not always be best addressed or confined within single disciplines, and the institutional structures/​programmes that support them.

Participants in the summit included deans and other leaders of graduate schools and representatives of national and international associations devoted to graduate education. Along with Canada and the United States, the countries represented were: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, China (PRC and Hong Kong), Croatia, Germany, Hungary, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

News Story on CGS website: University Leaders Issue Statement on Interdisciplinarity in Graduate Education and Research

Link to: Statement on Interdisciplinarity in Graduate Education and Research’ (PDF)

Image: Delegates attending the World Summit in Canada. by Council of Graduate Schools (USA).