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Interdisciplinary research

Interdisciplinary research is one of the important activities promoted by CoEs and REI funding programmes. The aim is scientific innovations obtained by linking knowledge created in different fields. Some 74% of CoEs stated that they conduct interdisciplinary research and that only in 19% of cases is this research confined to the primary research field of the CoE (Figure 3.20). When crossing this information with the budget size of CoEs, CoEsSB are, on average, more prone to conduct interdisciplinary research with a discipline in their field of science (27%) than CoEsLB (17%). CoEsLB are more prone to create links with other fields of science (75%) than CoEsSB (65%) suggesting that the size of the research budget can help drive diversified interdisciplinary research.

Figure 3.20. Interdisciplinary research

Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Centres of Excellence, 2012.

The reasons for a CoE to pursue interdisciplinary research have also been examined. The main stimulus is to innovate by exploiting different methods and sets of knowledge from a variety of perspectives and disciplines (Figure 3.21). Around 85% of CoEs stated that their main research objectives could not be reached by relying solely on the knowledge and paradigms of a single discipline. Similarly, 72% considered that interdisciplinary co-operation was necessary to foster the discovery of unexpected research pathways.15 Co-operation among different disciplines and its effect on the likelihood of acquiring additional research funds is more frequent in CoEsSB (61%) than in CoEsLB (52%).

Figure 3.21. Reasons to pursue interdisciplinary research

Note: *This percentage reaches 90% when Japanese CoEs are removed from the main sample (i.e. All CoEs). Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Centres of Excellence, 2012.

There are many ways to conduct interdisciplinary research (Figure 3.22). An approach frequently adopted by CoEs is to promote and organise regular joint activities by groups of researchers in different disciplines (87% of CoEs). In addition, 78% of CoEs created research groups with researchers from different disciplines so as to maximise the knowledge mix in the research unit and to enhance co-operation among researchers with different scientific backgrounds. This percentage increases up to 82% when CoEsSB are analysed while 76% of CoEsLB use this strategy to pursue interdisciplinary research. Some CoEs pay particular attention to the recruitment of scientific personnel with specific interdisciplinary skills and backgrounds in order to create new interfaces with different disciplines. For example, the recruitment policy of some German CoEs (see Chapter 6) focused on hiring promising junior professors and researchers who were not attached to a specific thematic or departmental area of expertise but ranged across a variety of knowledge areas and could help to link different research areas in the CoE. Around 56% of CoEsLB (as opposed to 49% of CoEsSB) have a special platform/centre to initiate and co-ordinate interdisciplinary research.

Figure 3.22. Mechanisms to undertake interdisciplinary research

Source: OECD/RIHR Survey to Centres of Excellence, 2012.

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