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National Science Foundation Steps Up Its Push for Interdisciplinary Research

Chronicle of Higher Education (02/13/12) Paul Basken

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is dispatching top official and University of Michigan professor Myron P. Gutmann to college campuses to promote the need for greater interdisciplinary research if they wish to win NSF grants. Gutmann notes that such research has yielded rapid advances in various fields, such as healthcare applications of atomic-scale science and the study of extreme weather events through analysis of both natural and social variables. NSF director Subra Suresh has prioritized the push for more interdisciplinary research since his arrival in October 2010. Emphasizing more interdisciplinary research is both financially and scientifically sensible, says Columbia University professor Mark C. Taylor. He notes that graduates are becoming too specialized to find employment due to the unsustainable nature of department-based hierarchies. Economic anxiousness could aid the NSF in its interdisciplinary efforts by making universities and their researchers particularly keen to comply with its mandate. Gutmann notes that NSF still believes in the importance of traditional disciplines, and says that in his department about 33 percent of research grants are interdisciplinary. “It doesn’t need to be 100 percent,” he says. “But it might want to be 60 percent.”


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