Thursday, 12 August 2010

Interdisciplinary science...

The university system operates under division and subdivsion. Colleges that host schools, schools that host courses, courses that host modules and modules that aim to inform and educate a hugely diverse range of students.

There are arguments that maybe this structure is too specialist, blinkering individuals to themes and topics that only lie within their field. As universities appear to recognise that interdisciplinary projects have a growing appeal, is it right to refine teaching within recognised disciplines? Changing this would require a complete overhaul in the university system, something that no university is ready for.

However investment in departments such as dot.rural have to be a step in the right direction. In harnessing the 'expertise' of an individual from one discipline and challenging them to address problems in another discipline innovative ideas can regularly be brought to the table. There is no guarantee that these ideas will work but the presentation of continually fresh angles and insights ensures an intriguing and interesting working environment.

Only time can tell if dot.rural will be succesful in paving the way for future interdisciplinary projects...

1 comment:

  1. From Mark Reed:

    I agree, though I think things are already changing to an extent. When I did my Undergraduate degree at Aberdeen (BSc Tropical Environmental Science, 1997), the only really interdisciplinary element was a fourth year exam where you got questions that required you to draw from and integrate material you'd learned from across the four years of the degree. It was a fun paper, but that was about it.

    Now, Aberdeen Uni are introducing a bunch of "6th Century" courses that attempt to draw expertise from across the University to create interdisciplinary courses. I've been involved with one on international development, which has been interesting so far, but it has yet to run. So I have yet to see how it actually works, and what students think of it. But at least people are trying more now.

    I think that the way the University is structured may also change in future under the direction of Ian Diamond. In the recent consultation he put out re: the University's Strategic Review, he asked people to suggest themes around which future activity could be organised. There's a good chance that many of these themes are likely to be interdisciplinary in nature. Of course, it has yet to be seen whether or not this will get off the ground and if it does, how influential it will be in the way that people actually work together. But I hope that there is an increasingly bright future for interdisciplinary research and teaching at Aberdeen. I think this is part of a wider trend across the Research Councils (with their cross-cutting themes) and the HE sector - Imperial (I think) recently re-organised its work around a bunch of Grand Challenges. Apparently this hasn't worked though - I've searched online but can't find any information about whether or not this is true, and if so what lessons we might be able to learn.