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World Science Day

Celebrated every 10 November, World Science Day for Peace and Development highlights the important role of science in society and the need to engage the wider public in debates on emerging scientific issues. It also underlines the importance and relevance of science in our daily lives.

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Interdisciplinary research: why it's seen as a risky route

Higher education needs to break down the barriers that block pathways to cross-subject study

It's a normal enough question in social situations: people just trying to make conversation and ask an obvious question with an easy answer. For me, though, there's usually a bit of an awkward silence while I try to come up with a short and not-too-confusing response.

I'm one of the many PhD candidates doing an interdisciplinary project. Part mathematical theory, part computational chemistry, with a bit of dabbling in the molecular biology and genetics lab. I have to admit, I'm not really sure what subject my PhD is in.

Interdisciplinarity is fashionable in academia right now: work that spans two or more subject areas, with experts from different disciplines sharing their expertise and perspectives. In many ways, this makes a lot of sense. Nothing exists in isolation from the rest of the world, and studying a subject in its wider context — whether it's understanding biology in terms of the underlying chemistry and physics, or medicine in the context of its interplay with social and economic factors — can often be enlightening.

Read more: Interdisciplinary research: why it's seen as a risky route

Interdisciplinary research by the numbers

An analysis reveals the extent and impact of research that bridges disciplines.

Interdisciplinary work is considered crucial by scientists, policymakers and funders — but how widespread is it really, and what impact does it have? Scholars say that the concept is complex to define and measure, but efforts to map papers by the disciplines of the journals they appear in and by their citation patterns are — tentatively — revealing the growth and influence of interdisciplinary research.

Read more: Interdisciplinary research by the numbers