Better Recognition for Multidisciplinary Research

The time has come for funding bodies and research institutions to give multidisciplinary researchers due credit when applying for grants, jobs, and promotions. That’s the conclusion of an opinion paper released in June by the Life, Environmental and Geo Sciences Committee of Science Europe, a Brussels-based association of more than 50 funding bodies and research institutions from across Europe that aims to promote the development of a stronger, more inclusive, and more open European research system.

“Young scientists entering multidisciplinary research need to be aware of various challenges that lie ahead in terms of career development. They have to recognize the importance of ‘visibility,’ from early on in their careers,” writesDirk Inzé, in a statement on behalf of the Science Europe Life, Environmental and Geo Sciences Committee. Inzé is the scientific director of the Department of Plant Systems Biology at the Flanders Institute for Biotechnology (VIB) at Ghent University in Belgium.

Research in the life, environmental, and geosciences has come to rely on high-throughput technologies and computational techniques, the Science Europe committee writes in the opinion paper, and such technological advances have ushered in an era where data-intensive science takes center stage and where researchers must increasingly cross disciplinary boundaries to work on large collaborative projects.

Unfortunately, the committee writes, necessary changes in the way researchers are evaluated are lagging. The paper denounces “the lack of clear evaluation metrics for scientists working in multidisciplinary teams,” noting that “[t]he absence of such metrics already has a negative impact on career paths, as many scientists hesitate to participate in multidisciplinary research.”

For those who do enter multidisciplinary research, current authorship standards—which, in the life sciences for example, identify the first author as the researcher who did the most work and the last author as the supervisor of the project—inadequately capture the contributions of different team members, which often are equally valuable. The problem is especially acute for those “contributors from ‘supporting’ disciplines—for example those who deal with data analysis and integration and are not authors of the original hypothesis and/or grant holders,” writes Inzé, on behalf of the committee. Those authors “tend to be placed in the middle of the author list, with no further explanation about their specific input.” To make recognition yet more difficult, different disciplines often use different publishing standards, the opinion paper notes.

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