In order to get beyond the rhetoric of interdisciplinarity, Erin Leahey has designed a series of research projects that address the actual impact of interdisciplinary work on scholars and institutions. In this essay, Leahey discusses how interdisciplinary research affects academic careers, the visibility of research, and scholarly productivity. She also reports on an ongoing project that explores the ways in which universities support interdisciplinary work among their faculty.
Erin Leahey is professor of sociology at the University of Arizona. Her research program focuses on the social organization of science, particularly scientific practice and scientific careers. In addition to the current NSF-funded project on universities’ commitment to interdisciplinarity (SciSIP program, award #1461989) described here, Professor Leahey is working with Jerry Jacobs and Attila Varga to explore how large social science datasets bring diverse scholars together and catalyze interdisciplinary scholarship. With Sharon Koppman (UC Irvine) she is also studying the diffusion of methods imported into sociology (e.g., correspondence analysis and sequence analysis), and has found that interdisciplinary scholars tend to adopt novel methods sooner than more disciplinary scholars. In an Annual Review of Sociology contribution published in 2016, Professor Leahey reviews trends in the rise and practice of research collaboration and how it intersects with specialization and interdisciplinarity.