National Science Foundation (UNITED STATES)
About this paper:
Appears in: ICERI2017 Proceedings
Publication year: 2017
Pages: 8434-8440
ISBN: 978-84-697-6957-7
ISSN: 2340-1095
doi: 10.21125/iceri.2017.2286
Conference name: 10th annual International Conference of Education, Research and Innovation
Dates: 16-18 November, 2017
Location: Seville, Spain
In recent years, multidisciplinarity has become the norm for solving the vexing problems facing society. To that end, the health care community has embraced the science of team science, focusing on the inner-workings of collaborative/team research. More recently, the emphasis of the broader scientific community has shifted to disciplinary convergence, i.e., deep integration across disciplines driven by a specific research problem.

In the past, disciplinary convergence usually started with research publications which were followed by the formation of a community of experts who networked through dedicated conferences and specialized journals; on the education side, the process was mirrored by specialized seminars, followed by new courses, culminating in new degree programs. Historically, convergence of disciplines happened slowly, e.g., it took bioinformatics several decades to evolve into a new discipline and a degree granting field. More recent examples of accelerated emergence of new disciplines, e.g., nanotechnology, were fueled by government initiatives and dedicated funding programs. The National Science Foundation’s Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers program and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which funded the multidisciplinary research and education, respectively, were instrumental in establishing nanotechnology as a discipline.

Presently, we live in an era of rapidly changing scientific landscapes and dramatic shifts in national economies, which, in turn, require agility and swift changes in academic education and training programs to meet the employment opportunities and needs of academia and society. In response to these challenges, many faculty/researchers at US academic institutions are single-handedly developing new curricula and degree programs. These programs transcend traditional disciplines and have the potential to enable their graduates to forge new ways of solving research grand challenges, e.g., understanding brain and human intelligence, and meeting societal needs, e.g., environmental management. Development of curricula for these new educational programs requires balancing disciplinary breadth and depth, deep engagement of faculty in cutting-edge research and new teaching and learning methodologies. Despite all these adversities, a surprisingly large number of academic institutions are embarking on these new course and degree ventures.

This paper provides an overview of how, during the past two decades, pertinent graduate education trends were driven by policy, funding sources, competitiveness and the faculty/researchers’ desire to achieve disciplinary convergence. Specifics include lessons learned from the IGERT (established by the National Science Foundation in 1998) and other programs supporting multidisciplinary education. More recent, bottom-up faculty driven programs are discussed in the context of academic research centers, which offer platforms for launching new multidisciplinary/transdisciplinary courses, hands-on training and new degree programs. The paper highlights the strategies these centers employ in recruitment, training and education of students, and the development of communities of experts in the new disciplines. The discussion also includes approaches that they employ to disseminate their educational materials and practices with the goal of scaling-up their programs and impacting a much broader academic community.
Convergence, trans-disciplinarity, graduate education, multidisciplinary.