Five ways to support interdisciplinary work before tenure
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- Benson, M.H., Lippitt, C.D., Morrison, R. et al. J Environ Stud Sci (2016) 6: 260. doi:10.1007/s13412-015-0326-9
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Academic institutions often claim to promote interdisciplinary teaching and research. Prescriptions for successfully engaging in interdisciplinary efforts, however, are usually directed at the individuals doing the work rather than the institutions evaluating them for the purpose of tenure and promotion. Where institutional recommendations do exist, they are often general in nature and lacking concrete guidance. Here, we draw on our experiences as students and faculty participating in three interdisciplinary water resource management programs in the USA to propose five practices that academic institutions can adopt to effectively support interdisciplinary work. We focus on reforms that will support pre-tenure faculty because we believe that an investment in interdisciplinary work early in one’s career is both particularly challenging and seldom rewarded. Recommended reforms include (1) creating metrics that reward interdisciplinary scholarship, (2) allowing faculty to “count” teaching and advising loads in interdisciplinary programs, (3) creating a “safe fail” for interdisciplinary research proposals and projects, (4) creating appropriate academic homes for interdisciplinary programs, and (5) rethinking “advancement of the discipline” as a basis for promotion and tenure.