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“What Am I?” The Path to Becoming an Interdisciplinary Academic


By exploring the motivations and aspirations of a group of British academics whose doctoral studies were explicitly interdisciplinary, this chapter investigates how their university careers have subsequently developed and the challenges and opportunities that they have faced. Interviewees reflect on their sense of self and the consequences that their interdisciplinary identity has for their status in the academy.


  • Academic identity
  • Career experiences
  • Status

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-030-18659-3_2
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  1. 1.

    A key change from the earlier ESRC/NERC scheme was that, this time, the Research Councils were offering a two-year interdisciplinary post-doctoral fellowship as well as the PhD studentship.

  2. 2.

    These funding schemes no longer exist and have been replaced by the Doctoral Training Centre model: see Filippakopoulou (2017) for a further explanation of this funding model and (accessed 17/12/18).

  3. 3.

    See Chap. 3 for a further discussion of the RAE and its replacement, the REF.

  4. 4.

    Many PhD topics are shaped by the supervisor and, indeed in the natural sciences, it is customary for the supervisor to present the student with the research question. One would also expect potential supervisors to advise applicants on potential sources of funding so we cannot infer too much from the fact that many informants talked about the influence of their supervisor as part of the motivation for starting down this interdisciplinary route.

  5. 5.

    This observation from Norman introduces the idea of “slowness” which is explored further in conjunction with the question about how we facilitate serendipity within the modern academy in Chap. 5.

  6. 6.

    If necessary, I followed this up with prompts such as “what has helped to move your career forward?” or “what do you think has held you back?”


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Correspondence to Catherine Lyall .

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Lyall, C. (2019). “What Am I?” The Path to Becoming an Interdisciplinary Academic. In: Being an Interdisciplinary Academic. Palgrave Pivot, Cham.

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