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A Rough Guide to Interdisciplinarity: Graduate Student Perspectives


A widely held belief is that only through interdisciplinarity can academics effectively address today’s complex ecological problems, because these problems demand cross-disciplinary efforts and specialized knowledge from natural and social scientists. Innovative interdisciplinary research and curricula have been created to train a new generation of scientists to engage with complex issues. It seems critical that those most affected by interdisciplinary education – doctoral students – provide feedback about such innovations. Without understanding students’ experiences in interdisciplinary programs, faculty will not know whether they are “getting it right” for future generations of interdisciplinarians.

From our experiences as doctoral students, we provide reflections and perspectives on the National Science Foundation funded Urban Ecology IGERT (Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) Program at the University of Washington. We discuss the aspects of the program that provided the most beneficial interdisciplinary experiences, as well as those aspects that could be improved. We identify three stages of intellectual development, present questions encountered during each stage, and develop six core recommendations for interdisciplinary research and training programs.