One of the ongoing struggles for me as an academic outsider working in a university is mastering the language. In the course of a recent discussion of the term “interdisciplinary” (the UNM Water Resources Program is “interdisciplinary”) I ran across this language I put in a program report I wrote last year in which I attempted to understand disentangle the terminology:
The program is, by construct, “interdisciplinary,” interpreted broadly. There are a number of different definitions and labels for this concept:
- “Multidisciplinary” – researchers from more than one discipline bringing their separate disciplinary perspectives to a problem, each retaining their own disciplinary focus,
- “Interdisciplinary” – the use of an innovative blend of more than one disciplinary focus, creating a synthetic approach to a problem,
- “Transdisciplinary” – the incorporation of non-academics along with academics in a research effort, bringing a more practical problem-based focused to the integration across disciplines.
While the University of New Mexico Water Resources program embraces the label of “interdisciplinarity,” and does work that most closely matches “transdisciplinary” as defined above, it is agnostic about the details of the labeling, comfortably doing work that matches many different flavors of work across disciplines, in and out of the academy.
This remains for me a helpful framework for thinking about what we do. The bit above even had a footnote!