Journal of Dental Research and Review

: 2020  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 5  |  Page : 7--9

Interdisciplinary research: A preamble to dr. d. y. patil vidyapeeth's first conference on interdisciplinary research in health sciences

Sarika Chaturvedi 
 Senior Scientist, Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra, India

Correspondence Address:
Sarika Chaturvedi
Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth, Pune, Maharashtra

How to cite this article:
Chaturvedi S. Interdisciplinary research: A preamble to dr. d. y. patil vidyapeeth's first conference on interdisciplinary research in health sciences.J Dent Res Rev 2020;7:7-9

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Chaturvedi S. Interdisciplinary research: A preamble to dr. d. y. patil vidyapeeth's first conference on interdisciplinary research in health sciences. J Dent Res Rev [serial online] 2020 [cited 2022 Aug 17 ];7:7-9
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Dr. D. Y. Patil Vidyapeeth'sFirst Conference titled Interdisciplinary Research in Health Sciences was opened with a preamble given by Dr. Sarika Chaturvedi, Senior Scientist at the University. This paper presents a summary of this talk on interdisciplinary research.

The famous philosopher Kant is known for his dictum “Ethics without economics is empty and economics without ethics is blind.” The rationality in economics, and the ideas of justice and fairness from an ethics aspect, both need to be balanced for successful decisions in real life projects.

Interdisciplinarity is about making the appropriate balance. The purpose of this short talk is to ensure all conference participants share a common understanding of interdisciplinarity.

Before we dwell on interdisciplinarity, it will be good to visit what discipline means.

A subject that has disciplines began to be called as discipline, and disciplines came into University structure in Greece first. A discipline has its own norms and procedures of study. It is important to note that understanding one's discipline also involves understanding how it relates to other disciplines. Health is a product of multiple determinants at biological, behavioral, and contextual levels and their interactions among individuals, communities, time, and place. Understanding and improving health demands a problem-driven approach. Problems of prime concern to health are a confluence of multiple genetic and environmental factors. Importantly, the challenges to health sector are rooted in factors spreading across several disciplines.

We are conducting research at a time when problem-driven approach is more important than any time before. Societal problems that need to be addressed are complex and difficult to be dealt with adequately by a single discipline or profession. Since the problems in health spread over disciplines, how can solutions emerge from any single discipline. Worthwhile topics of research fall in the spaces between disciplines, for instance, climate change and world poverty-problems that resist understanding or resolution from a single discipline. Research remained in solo disciplines until the recent past; the involvement of more disciplines is becoming a trend. Although the terms multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary are often used interchangeably, they vary based on the level of involvement of different disciplines in a joint work. Moreover, research being dynamic, the classification as disciplinary and interdisciplinary may change.

Multidisciplinarity involves an interaction between disciplines; it works in an additive manner with no overlap or exchange between the disciplines involved [Figure 1]. Interdisciplinarity involves breaking the boundaries of disciplines and integrating those to a new level. The disciplines in a multidisciplinary project may interact to generate new concepts that become interdisciplinary work [Figure 2]. Few metaphors make the meaning of interdisciplinary clearer, for instance, “Bridge building” (refers to bridges between disciplines), “Boundary crossing” (refers to crossing boundaries of individual disciplines), and “Travelling concepts” or theories (indicates the movement of concepts between disciplines).{Figure 1}{Figure 2}

Interdisciplinary research is not an exception but a common path in modern academia.

For instance, the European Union's framework program Horizon 2020 is focused on interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. The National Science Foundation of the US or the Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program are additional examples. The same is also happening in the Indian context; the recent UGC scheme STRIDE has a high focus on transdisciplinary research. This focus is based on the growing understanding that in addition to disciplinary depth, current problems also require “synthesizing minds.” The concept of “science of team science” is a testimony of influence of interdisciplinary research on current theories. We now have newer fields such as environmental humanities.

Literature on interdisciplinary research shows a few characteristics of such researchers. They are known to focus on problems too complex to be solved by one discipline and hence utilize multiple theories. Importantly, interdisciplinary researchers do recognize that each theory or method is useful for some purposes and also has weaknesses. They appreciate 'evolving disciplinary' perspectives and do not stereotype people to disciplines. Interdisciplinary researchers have the ability to integrate the best elements of disciplinary insights to evolve a comprehensive understanding of the problem.

The interdisciplinary research process mainly involves two broad steps, first drawing on disciplinary insights followed by integrating insights and producing an interdisciplinary understanding. Repko et al. described the sequential steps and the details:

Drawing on disciplinary insights: This initial step is the foundation and involves more intellectual exercise than research in single disciplines. The steps include:

State the question/problemJustify using interdisciplinary approachIdentify relevant disciplinesConduct literature searchDevelop adequacy in each disciplineAnalyze the problem and evaluate each insight into it.

Integrating insights and producing an interdisciplinary understanding: This second step in interdisciplinary research process involves generating the understanding to guide the research approach. The steps include:

Identify conflicts between insights/their sourcesCreate/discover common groundIntegrate insightsProduce an interdisciplinary understanding of the problem, test it.

In conducting interdisciplinary research, we move from reductionism to holism. Advantages of interdisciplinary research include its better explanatory and predictive power and its ability to inspire confronting questions that may not otherwise occur to one. Interdisciplinary research is a response to hyperspecialization as it allows viewing the bigger picture. Further, interdisciplinary research receives a wider audience owing to the spread across disciplines.

Interdisciplinary research is, however, not without its challenges. Although interdisciplinary research is in demand, academic education and university norms largely follow a disciplinary structure. Often, funding available for research is restricted to disciplines and so may be the publication and peer-review process at some journals. This is however changing.

It is important to recognize that success in interdisciplinary research is based on a range of interpersonal, intrapersonal, and contextual factors. Interdisciplinary research often involves a power struggle for the lead role. Literature on interdisciplinary research provides factors known to enhance interdisciplinary research. Openness to diverse disciplinary contributions to theory, practice, and methods should be the guiding principle in conducting interdisciplinary research. Interdisciplinary collaborative skills, mutual understanding and respect for peers from different disciplines, are important. Leaders of interdisciplinary research teams need to be integration and implementation scientists. They ought to practice 'relational ethics'. It is highly important that they build a climate of safety, trust, respect, and equality.[1],[2],[3]

The reason the DPU is holding this conference is mainly the growing recognition that interdisciplinary training is important to undertake scientific challenges in innovative ways. Interdisciplinary training through integration of research and education is essential for this. The DPU has prioritized promoting and supporting interdisciplinary research. The larger goal is creating outstanding scientists who can integrate knowledge, theory, and methods from diverse disciplines and participate effectively in interdisciplinary teams to address complex health issues of priority. I sincerely hope we all put the best efforts to form successful interdisciplinary research teams to achieve this goal.


1Graff HJ. Undisciplining Knowledge: Interdisciplinary in the Twentieth Century. JHU Press; 2015.
2Repko AF, Newell WH, Szostak R. Case Studies in Interdisciplinary Research. Sage Publications; 2011.
3Repko AF, Szostak R. Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory. Sage Publications; 2016.