Trinity awarded €1.5m to build interdisciplinary research toolkit

Trinity College Dublin has been awarded funding of €1.5 million to lead an international research project to build a toolkit to promote interdisciplinary research. The project was  launched by Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State for Higher Education yesterday.

Many experts agree that the most exciting research breakthroughs happen when the disciplines intersect. Moreover, a cross-disciplinary approach is increasingly needed to understand the ever faster developing world around us, making sense of it and delivering knowledge that helps to address complex problems better.

Jane Ohlmeyer, Director, Trinity Long Room Hub and Minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor

However, there are still many barriers to the promotion and practice of research between and across disciplines, explains the coordinator of the project Professor Jane Ohlmeyer, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub.

“Engaging in interdisciplinary research can allow researchers to unlock deeper impact for their work than might otherwise be possible. We feel the magic happens when the disciplines collide, and this is one of the key reasons we felt compelled to spearhead this project. Through this project, we want to make it easier for researchers from different disciplines to collaborate and to do our part in helping to make the world a place that we want to live in.”

The SHAPE-ID project, short for ‘Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe’, funded by European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme, will provide guidance and practical recommendations on how best to bring the Arts, Humanities, Social Sciences and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects together through interdisciplinary research as one important approach, of many, to address complex questions.

The project was launched at an event in Trinity Long Room Hub by Minister O’Connor who commented: “I am delighted to announce the award of Horizon 2020 funding to Trinity College Dublin to lead the coordination of this new project on shaping interdisciplinary research practices in Europe. This project will empower a range of stakeholders from the individual researcher to their university, and from the European Commission to national and non-governmental funders of higher education research, to recognise key areas that could benefit from an interdisciplinary approach which crosses the humanities, arts and sciences. The project has the added merit of also including industry partners, which should further strengthen its findings. The results of the project will be crucial for policy makers in assessing the potential of inter-disciplinary research to address many of the societal problems we face both nationally and on a European level.”

The project will also address many of the questions relating to interdisciplinary research — the absence of shared understanding of what interdisciplinary research is; what its integration means, and why it is so essential in helping to find solutions to the societal challenges we face today. It will also explore the structural contexts that engender or discourage successful interdisciplinary activity.

The project is led by Professor Jane Ohlmeyer and also includes Humanities and Social Sciences experts from ISINNOVA (Carlo Sessa) in Italy, ETH Zurich (Dr Christian Pohl), the University of Edinburgh (Professor Catherine Lyall), Institute of Literary Research in the Polish Academy of Sciences (Dr Maciej Maryl) and consultant in science and technology studies Dr Jack Spaapen. The project will also work with enterprise partners over its duration including Intel and Accenture. Members of the project consortium also have extensive experience working together through wider research networks such as the COST funded actions INTREPID (Interdisciplinarity in research programming and funding cycles) and ENRESSH (European Network for Research Evaluation in the Social Sciences and the Humanities).

SHAPE-ID will examine the structure of interdisciplinary practices in research institutions, the role of international networks and consortia, and enabling programmes offered by research funders including national, pan-European and private research foundations. It will also consult with a range of stakeholders identified as being the primary beneficiaries of this work such as researchers; policy makers and funders; and research users (enterprise, civil society, the cultural sector and the citizen). It is hoped that the recommendations will be a useful aid to the European Commission in assessing the potential of interdisciplinarity for responding to the different societal challenges that Europe needs to tackle in areas like health, food and agriculture, climate change, technological innovation, security, etc.

Professor Ohlmeyer added: “For Trinity to lead on a project of this scale, speaks volume to the level of attention institutions such as the Trinity Long Room Hub and other research centres across college are giving to interdisciplinary research and the efforts being expended to bring the disciplines together. More and more of our researchers see merit in carrying out inter-disciplinary research and funding bodies, through awards such as this, recognise the need to put this type of research on a more stable footing to achieve best value on these types of collaborations.”

The project will be funded for 30 months, from 1 February 2019 until 31 July 2021. It builds on a 2016 project funded by the Irish Research Council which was awarded to the Trinity Long Room Hub and DCU to hold a one day workshop on ‘Interdisciplinarity for Impact’ (click here to view video). The proceedings of the workshop led to the publication of a report of recommendations on how researchers and funding bodies could engage in conducting and supporting interdisciplinary research.


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