Interdisciplinary Research

Part
01
of two
Part
01

Interdisciplinary Research, Part 1

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is one of the research universities with a track record of successful interdisciplinary research practices. The MIT Lincoln Laboratory is made up of professionals from seven major academic discipline, which are Electrical Engineering (33%), Computer Science and Computer Engineering (16%), Physics (16%), Biology, Chemistry, Meteorology, and Materials Science (11%), Mechanical Engineering (8%), Mathematics (6%), Aeronautics/Astronautics (5%), and others (5%).

MIT Interdisciplinary Research Programs: Overview

MIT Lincoln Laboratory (MIT-LL)

  • The MIT Lincoln Laboratory is made up of professionals from seven major academic discipline, which are Electrical Engineering (33%), Computer Science and Computer Engineering (16%), Physics (16%), Biology, Chemistry, Meteorology, and Materials Science (11%), Mechanical Engineering (8%), Mathematics (6%), Aeronautics/Astronautics (5%), and others (5%).
  • MIT Lincoln Laboratory "researches and develops a broad array of advanced technologies to meet critical national security needs." Its value proposition is based on its focus on building operational prototypes of the unique systems designed by the laboratory.
  • The program claims to possess an innovative R&D team with exceptional technical abilities and creativity in cross-disciplinary teams. This helps them to develop advanced technologies for diverse needs such as providing secure communications, defending against missile threats, monitoring activity in space, and inventing biomedical devices.
  • The research topics handled at MIT Lincoln Laboratory include engineering, sensors, information extraction, communications, and decision support, cyber-security, bioengineering, autonomous systems, and homeland protection.
  • MIT Lincoln researchers work in cross-disciplinary teams that leverage the latest technological advances in the development of innovative solutions.
  • After an exhaustive search through the MIT Lincoln Laboratory website, MIT-LL people and culture site, and other publicly available information about the organization, there was no mention of an exclusive protocol or policy put in place by the university of how the laboratory staff works together.
  • According to the organization, "Lincoln Laboratory's internal organizational structure encourages the interchange of ideas between staff members and management. This structure includes just three primary management levels: the Director's Office, the division heads, and the group leaders." The Director's Office reports into MIT leadership."
  • Lincoln Laboratory is organized into "technical divisions and service departments under the governance of a Director, Associate Director, Assistant Director for Operations, and the Director's Office Staff. The Laboratory reports to the MIT Office of the President."
  • According to the MIT Lincoln Laboratory, the research and development program is funded by the federal government, sponsored by the Department of Defense and focused on national security. All funding for the Lincoln Laboratory comes through Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC).
  • The only type of funding allowed for MIT-LL is Research, Development, Test & Evaluation (RDT&E) funds. However, the use of "non-RDT&E funds is considered an exception that requires explanation, documentation, and justification."
  • A breakdown of the $1.109 billion spent by MIT-LL on the different interdisciplinary research areas is provided herein. In 2019, the laboratory also won a $2,038,147,146 funding from the United States Air Force through FFRDC.
  • A key takeaway from the MIT-LL that can be applied by another research university looking to form their interdisciplinary research teams is for such research university to align its interdisciplinary research to areas and disciplines with high funding from government agencies and departments, academia & not-for-profits, or private companies, in order to have a reliable and long-term source of funding.

Research Strategy

To determine a successful interdisciplinary research university, we selected the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) due to its multi-year track record of working across departments, significant research funding ($1.109 billion in 2019), over 150 years of interdisciplinary research experience, and track records of achievements by MIT Lincoln Laboratory.
Part
02
of two
Part
02

Interdisciplinary Research, Part 2

Stanford University is one of the research universities with a track record of successful interdisciplinary research practices. The co-location of the schools of Engineering, Humanities & Sciences, Business, Earth Sciences, Medicine, Law, and Education encourages interdisciplinary research between these schools.

Departments/Colleges

  • According to Stanford University, the co-location of the schools of Engineering, Humanities & Sciences, Business, Earth Sciences, Medicine, Law, and Education encourages interdisciplinary research between these schools.
  • Institutes such as Stanford Bio-X, Wu Tsai Neurosciences Institute, Stanford Institute for Materials and Energy Sciences (SIMES), and Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford (FSI) are designed to encourage collaboration between different schools departments.

Topics

  • According to the university, topics covered range from "international and economic studies to challenges facing the environment, energy, and health".
  • Stanford University currently has interdisciplinary research in chemistry and biology, culture and economics, environment and climate, medicine and healthcare, physics, materials, energy, and space.

Collaboration

  • The university has "18 designated independent laboratories, centers, and institutes". These centers and institutes enable collaboration in interdisciplinary research by providing an intellectual and physical intersection between the participants.
  • The laboratories, centers, and institutes are directed by the dean of research. Kam Moler is the current Dean of Research and Vice Provost.
  • Stanford University students are encouraged to take on interdisciplinary research in the "interdisciplinary institutes, buildings that promote conversation, and support for faculty carrying out collaborative research".
  • The university also has various strategic programs designed to bring faculties together and remove barriers that can prevent the application of new ideas to other areas of research from one discipline.
  • Stanford University has a history of collaboration. The university has the policy to foster collaboration since 1982 when the first policy that called for interdisciplinary collaboration was signed by the then-provost Albert Hastorf.

Funding

  • According to Ann Arvin, former dean of research and vice provost, the university offers seed grants to "teams of researchers, which have proved to be remarkably effective for bringing people together in productive collaborations". An example is the Stanford Interdisciplinary Graduate Fellowship that is awarded to doctoral students on a competitive basis.
  • The university puts together a team of interdisciplinary researchers and provides them with a pilot project support to enhance its competitiveness for federal and other grants. This suggests that the university applies for grants as a single unit.

Key Takeaway

  • A key takeaway that can be applied by another research university looking to form their own interdisciplinary research teams is the Stanford organizational structure. The dean of research at Stanford is designated as the "cognizant dean for the independent institutes". It is good to have "a champion within any complex institution".

Research Strategy

To determine a successful interdisciplinary research university, we looked for research funding of various universities, interdisciplinary research experience, and achievements. Stanford University was selected because of its 30 years track record of working across departments, significant research funding ($1.63 billion in 2019-20), and track records of achievements by the university.
Sources
Sources