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Report from EUA-CDE workshop: Interdisciplinary Doctoral Programmes

25 January 2013

The 2013 thematic workshop of the EUA Council for Doctoral Education (EUA-CDE) focused on interdisciplinary doctoral programmes, outlining the possibilities and challenges interdisciplinary perspectives present for doctoral education. The workshop, which took place from 17 to 18 January 2013, was hosted by the Politecnico di Torino in Italy and attracted more than 90 participants from over 20 countries.

At the workshop, members of EUA-CDE presented case studies of how and why universities engage in interdisciplinary training of doctoral candidates. Staff from Technische Universität München and Newcastle University introduced two major case studies from the point of view of university management, researchers and doctoral candidates in order to show the different motivations and perspectives from the parties involved in such programmes. Ten other case studies were presented in parallel sessions over the two days of the workshop.

There was an astounding degree of convergence in the different presentations, which all showed great enthusiasm for interdisciplinary programmes, but at the same time pointed to a number of obstacles. Interdisciplinary doctoral education is a useful tool for engaging in problem-oriented research, such as responding to the Grand Challenges, developing the professional profile of doctoral candidates as well as building institutional research capacity and raising new questions for researchers.

However, the challenges to engage successfully in interdisciplinary programmes were many: the time and effort to complete an interdisciplinary research project can be very challenging for doctoral candidates, and input from several supervisors with different discipline-dependent cultures, languages and standards can present difficulties. Moreover, most research assessments as well as most high-impact journals remain discipline-based, which risks putting interdisciplinary research and researchers in an unfavourable position in terms of recognition.

This being said, in today’s competitive environment, interdisciplinary programmes are an advantage for institutions that want to stand out and respond to society’s need for a “continuous renewal of its knowledge base and the scientific system supporting it”, as Stefano Paleari, Rector of the University of Bergamo, said in his keynote speech.

More information about the EUA-CDE is available here.

The presentations from the workshop are available on the event website.

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