Barriers and enablers of interdisciplinary research at academic institutions

Leslie S. T. Butler


This research study examines the factors that motivate and lead to the success of faculty members who conduct interdisciplinary research. Because a comprehensive study of the research patterns of interdisciplinary researchers has not been conducted, the main intent of this research project was to create an instrument that would measure research habits and attitudes. It is important that such research be conducted using individuals who are interdisciplinary researchers as well as disciplinary researchers. One intent of the research study was to provide comparisons between disciplinary researchers and interdisciplinary researchers. Another intent was to provide university administrators with a better understanding of the factors that motivate and lead to the success of interdisciplinary researchers so that they could make policies that would support and encourage interdisciplinary research at their institution. A national survey was conducted to test the reliability and validity of a research instrument designed to examine different factors that were illuminated in a literature review and focus group study: administrative financial support, graduate training, team work and disciplinary affinity. Demographic data were also examined to determine if there were specific characteristics of interdisciplinary researchers that administrators would benefit from understanding. Purposeful sampling was conducted so that both interdisciplinary and disciplinary researchers were surveyed. This strategy was used so that comparisons between the two groups could be made. No differences were found between the different types of researchers on factors that lead to the success of or motivate faculty to conduct interdisciplinary research. An important finding of the research is that there were no significant differences between the demographic characteristics of individuals who conduct interdisciplinary research and those who do not. This finding is contrary to what is found in the literature. Because of this, administrators cannot make assumptions that an individual faculty member will conduct interdisciplinary research based on presumed demographic characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age or gender. An additional important finding of the research study is that there were no correlations between whether individuals who identified themselves as conducting applied or basic research and how interdisciplinary their research was. This is an important finding because, like demographic characteristics, the literature suggests that interdisciplinary researchers tend to be more applied in their research focus than disciplinary researchers.