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Interdisciplinary and Multidisciplinary Research

Posted on June 29, 2012

Jacqueline Resnick (bio) explains the difference between two approaches to research.


Explaining the difference between interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research is important because the terms are very sexy right now and they're used in an exchanged level and they're not the same. So I'll put a plug in for the National Academy. There's a wonderful book that was put out by the National Academy called Doing Interdisciplinary Research, and it probably should be on every researcher's bookshelf. It's available free from the Academy and it's fabulous.

Multidisciplinary research is bringing disciplines together to talk about issues from each of their perspectives. They may collaborate, but they maintain a separation of their disciplines in that process. When the project is done, those disciplines go back to where they came from to start other projects.

Interdisciplinary is bringing those same folks together in the same way, but using that expertise to create new instruments, models, approaches that couldn't occur if they were separately handled. So you're creating new knowledge by saying, "If I integrate biology and anthropology and we create, let's say, this protocol that addresses the issues from both and integrates them, I'm developing a new way of trying to find new answers," and that's the difference.

I think the advice for young researchers who participate in interdisciplinary or multidisciplinary teams is to stay focused, and to be sure to speak out when things don't go the way they think they should or if they have questions. The worst thing a young researcher can do is sit back and do nothing, because the experience will not enhance where they need to go.

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Excerpted from interview with researcher in September, 2009.


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