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Interdisciplinarity has recently been lavished with considerable hype in academia. A large proportion of calls for funding, new shiny projects and educational endeavours mention the concept. In Amsterdam, many research and education initiatives – academic and non-academic alike – seem to incorporate interdisciplinarity in some way. But what is interdisciplinarity? What is it good for? And how can a researcher best conduct interdisciplinary research? Very little hands-on guidance is currently available, particularly for those who are just starting out with interdisciplinary research or teaching.
The Amsterdam Young Academy (AYA), founded by the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the University of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam University Medical Centers, is an independent platform where talented researchers from different disciplines meet to develop views on research and science policy. Within AYA’s Interdisciplinarity Working Group, we aim to advance interdisciplinary research and teaching in Amsterdam, to provide a community particularly for early career interdisciplinary research and to learn from one another. In many of our discussions we noted the lack of guidance and of the sharing of best practices within the different interdisciplinary communities across Amsterdam’s academic institutions.
Through our interdisciplinary lunch events, we learned that many researchers want to team up with colleagues working in other fields but often do not know where to start. Obviously, discipline-specific information is widely available for each institute and department. But cross-domain and cross-institute initiatives and opportunities are difficult to discover via Google without knowing what exactly to enter in the search box. Moreover, every interdisciplinary collaboration is different, so it is impossible to create a canonical guide to interdisciplinarity.
However, academics working interdisciplinarily can share similar attitudes and interests, and they do stumble upon similar organizational and infrastructural hiccups. That is why we interviewed 20 people with various backgrounds, roles and experiences on the topic of interdisciplinarity. You will find the biographies of these players in the interdisciplinary field listed in the concluding section of this guide. Discussing our various insights, we discovered common threads in our interviewees’ interdisciplinary practices. We grouped these threads into our five main themes here: goal, person, community, education, and system. By sharing the diverse insights of these interviewees as well as our own, we hope to inspire those interested in (beginning) interdisciplinary research and teaching.