Project Details


While there is much uncertainty about the future, what we do know is that as a society, we are increasingly beset by complex or wicked problems, ie those best addressed by involving a range of disciplines, different perspectives, competing values. This is increasingly requiring a post-normal science approach (Funtowicz and Ravetz, 2003), where it is accepted that “facts are uncertain, values are in dispute, stakes high and decisions are urgent”. Wicked and complex problems often require a transdisciplinary approach: involving multiple disciplines, researchers working with practitioners and business, and engagement at the science -policy interface.
This need for inter and transdisciplinary practice is increasingly common. While the UN’s Sustainable development Goals are divided into 17 different areas of focus, it is recognised that there are many interconnections between them. The UKRI has increasingly issued calls for research which require representation from multiple disciplines and expertise relating to multiple research councils. Often, these also include an international focus (Newton Fund, GCRF).
The skills required to engage in such research are often different than the more traditional disciplinary focus which has underpinned much of academia (organised in disciplinary silos, Research Excellence assessment within disciplinary units, requirements to succeed in the academic job market or internal promotion).
The challenges of transdisciplinary research are many (see Harris and Lyon, 2014; Harris, Lyon and Clarke, 2009), and include an appreciation of the different institutional logics of organisations participating in collaborative research (Harris and Lyon, 2013). It requires a particular set of skills to act as a transdisciplinarian, and there are further challenges to working across the boundaries of research / practice, and at the interface of science – policy.
The proposed PhD would focus on transdisciplinary practice with academia. It would map the careers of transdisciplinary researchers, the futures of those engaged in interdisciplinary PhD programmes, to identify what makes a transdisciplinarian. What are the key skills of brokerage as individuals seek to span boundaries? Where do transdisciplinarian’s careers take them, and what role can they play in government, policymaking, business, and practice, as well as in academia? What is the value, or limitations, of this approach for academia, as we attempt to deal with the complex and wicked challenges of the future? How can Universities be supported to develop research programmes which equip students for the complex, entangled disciplinary problems of the future?
Short titleTransdisciplinary skills
Effective start/end date1/10/2130/09/24


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