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Research in science has always been divided into clearly separated disciplines, for example mathematics, physics or biology. However, during the last decades the emergence of several new multidisciplinary topics of research overlapping between these main research disciplines has occurred. This increasing amount of multidisciplinary research has led to the collaboration of people with very different backgrounds working on the same project inside the same group of research. These collaborations can have both advantages and disadvantages for the team and the research itself that need to be known and taken into account before starting.
Multidisciplinarity is a valuable way of doing research. People coming from several fields have very different backgrounds, they know different methods and have diverse views of the research questions. The well-known approach and knowledge of a specific field of research can be completely novel for another field and lead to the development of new ideas, and the combination of complementary expertises can boost the research by saving time and covering a broader view of possibilities as mentioned by Dr. Otto Muskens, Physics and Nanophotonics professor at the university of Utrecht (Netherlands), in his post on the survival blog for scientists. Therefore, multidisciplinary teams can answer more complex questions compared to the unidisciplinary ones. This can increase the chances of an high impact research by extending the audience of the work to different communities[1,4]. It also raises the chances of getting a wide range of feedbacks on the work, potentially increasing the quality of the outputs.
Working with different communities can sometimes be a challenge as well. It can be difficult to combine different worlds and come up with a common outcome. The development of an experiment, for example, can be compromised by the use of different field-specific methods or field-specific standardizations that are not approved by the other parts of the project. Contradictory ethics rules can apply to the different communities. Furthermore, differences in vocabulary can have an impact on the communication within the team and lead to misunderstanding. It is important to set the definitions of words before starting developing any experiment as well as a clear goal for the research. In addition scientists of different fields can have very different interpretations of the results of an experiment; the discussion has to be well-documented and well-argued to convince all the scientists involved in the project and to arrive at a common conclusion. The collaboration of narrow-minded researchers can, therefore, be a complete disaster.
These considerations are important to take into account before starting any collaboration. It is easy to think about the rewards that such partnerships could lead to. However, it can be hard to reflect about the difficulties researchers will need to overcome. This is why a lot of valuable tools have been developed. Guidelines can be found online[3,5] and many conferences emerged over the last years. For example, the Asia-Pacific conference on multidisciplinary research (APMR), January 2017, Sri Lanka; the International conference on multidisciplinary research held by the Philippine Association of Institutions for Research, June 2017, Taiwan and the International conference on Innovation Challenges in Multidisciplinary Research and Practice (ICMRP), December 2017, Singapore.
The trend of doing multidisciplinary research is inevitable as the benefits of it outweigh the disadvantages. The acceleration of innovation makes impossible the completion of complex research projects by a single institution or even a single country. As said by Jonathan Adams, director of research evaluation for Evidence, part of Thomson Reuters, in Leeds, UK, in a paper published in Nature in 20122 “New collaboration patterns are changing the global balance of science. Established superpowers need to keep up or be left behind”.
1. Abu-Zaid, A., Alnajjar, A., & Anwer, L. A. (2014). Authorship disintegrity in research collaborations: ends do not justify means in science. Medical Education Online, 19, 24930. https://doi.org/10.3402/MEO.V19.24930
2.Adams, J. (2012). Collaborations: The rise of research networks. Nature, 490(7420), 335–336. https://doi.org/10.1038/490335a
3. Lustig, L. C., Ponzielli, R., Tang, P. S., Sathiamoorthy, S., Inamoto, I., Shin, J. A., … Chan, W. C. (2015). Guiding principles for a successful multidisciplinary research collaboration. Future Science OA, 1(3), FSO7. https://doi.org/10.4155/fso.15.1
4. Muskens, O. (2012). “Doing multidisciplinary research”. In Survival blog for scientists: How to become a leading scientist. Online. <http://www.sciencesurvivalblog.com/getting-published/doing-multidisciplinary-research_6495>.
5. Vicens, Q., & Bourne, P. E. (2007). Ten simple rules for a successful collaboration. PLoS Computational Biology, 3(3), e44. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pcbi.0030044
6. Wang, W., Wu, Y., & Pan, Y. (n.d.). An investigation of collaborations between top Chinese universities: a new quantitative approach. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11192-013-1072-y