2015 Archives

Substance Over Buzz


The following is from the Oct. 27, 2015, edition of Inside Higher Ed.

October 30, 2015

By Colleen Flaherty

Is true interdisciplinary work becoming more common, or is it simply a buzzword -- or, perhaps worse, a trumped-up name for flexible academic labor? That’s what a group of graduate students at Southern Methodist University wanted to know, so they took what data were available to them -- job ads -- and analyzed them for possible answers.

They determined that ads for interdisciplinary academic jobs privilege teaching over interdisciplinary expertise, and that the jobs that appear truly interdisciplinary tend to be at institutions that have dedicated centers for such work.

One additional finding? Many jobs do in fact appear to be more about interdisciplinary buzz than substance.

“As young interdisciplinary scholars soon to be on the job market, we wanted to understand how the term ‘interdisciplinary’ is employed in the hiring process,” reads a working paper by a group of graduate students enrolled as fellows last year at Southern Methodist's Dedman Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies. “Does the invocation of the term ‘interdisciplinary’ reveal anything about what kinds of work might be available to us in the academy? More broadly, does it reveal anything about how universities are considering interdisciplinary work, and how that might impact our own graduate studies?”

The fellows -- four humanists, one social scientist and one statistician -- say that a few basic suppositions drove their analysis. Perhaps most importantly, they wanted to know whether the advertising institution had created space, such as a dedicated center, on its campus for interdisciplinary work. When an institution hosts such a space, they say, “it explicitly commits itself to new approaches to knowledge and guards against letting unconventional scholars fall through the cracks.”

The students took their job ad data from H-Net: Humanities and Social Sciences Online, determining that its thousands of jobs were a sufficiently representative sample. They focused on the 2013 hiring cycle, analyzing any ads posted between November of that year to December 2014 containing the word “interdisciplinary.” That turned up some 200 jobs, which the group then coded as part of its analysis.

The group coded for type of institution; whether the hiring department was linked to an interdisciplinary institute; where in the ad the term “interdisciplinary” appeared -- title, body, keyword or more than once; and whether “interdisciplinary” described the department, the candidate or some combination. The fellows also rated the stated demands of the position for how they corresponded with known traits of interdisciplinary scholarship: research methodology, topic, teaching, publication and collaboration.

Read the full story.