Professional development of interdisciplinary environmental scholars

  • Susan G. Clark
  • Michelle M. Steen-Adams
  • Stephanie Pfirman
  • Richard L. Wallace


The need is urgent to build capacity in the environmental community, and the interdisciplinary approach is one of the most promising avenues to accomplish this. The environmental studies and sciences program movement can ably lead this effort. Based on a workshop at the second annual meeting of the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) in 2010, we look at barriers to interdisciplinarity in academia, including the cultural, historical, and institutional context of disciplinary scholarship. It is within this context that interdisciplinarians must fight for identity, recognition, roles, legitimacy, and standing. Teaching, research, service, publishing, competing for funding, and meeting reappointment/promotion/tenure evaluation criteria can all pose unique difficulties for interdisciplinary scholars. We offer advice to those seeking professional interdisciplinary education, including finding the right program and advisor, developing skills, designing and completing the dissertation, and establishing a professional network. We also offer advice on securing a job—setting the stage while still in graduate school and highlighting interdisciplinary strengths in the application and interview process. We also offer advice on career advancement, such as clarifying one’s expertise and its significance, setting and fulfilling tenure-track benchmarks, adapting the career trajectory to capitalize on an interdisciplinary career, clarifying with one’s institution the criteria for advancement, and preparing the tenure portfolio. Finally, we offer an introduction to interdisciplinarity as an explicit, systematic approach in concept and framework that rests on a higher order means of organizing knowledge and action, with a focus on integration. AESS is emerging as an organization to assist professionals by assembling a supportive community of environmental educators, researchers, and problem solvers, by clarifying and promoting standards for successful interdisciplinarity in the classroom and in the field, and by offering advice and support on career issues for both up-and-coming professionals and established faculty and practitioners.


Environmental scholars Academic careers Interdisciplinarity 



We want to thank the AESS leaders, the workshop attendees, and our many students, friends, and colleagues, especially those who struggle to do genuinely interdisciplinary work. We thank our respective colleges and universities for providing the opportunity to develop and apply interdisciplinarity. We thank our many coworkers in the diverse applied situations that we have worked in nationally and internationally. Denise Casey, David Cherney, Laura Bozzi, and anonymous reviewers offered critical advice.


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Copyright information

© AESS 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Susan G. Clark
    • 1
  • Michelle M. Steen-Adams
    • 2
  • Stephanie Pfirman
    • 3
  • Richard L. Wallace
    • 4
  1. 1.School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Institution for Social and Policy StudiesYale UniversityNew HavenUSA
  2. 2.Department of Environmental StudiesUniversity of New EnglandBiddefordUSA
  3. 3.Environmental Science DepartmentBarnard College, Columbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  4. 4.Ursinus CollegeCollegevilleUSA

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