Interdisciplinary Research Among U.S. Doctoral Graduates: An Examination of Definitions, Measurement, Early Career Outcomes, and Sex Differences
Millar, Morgan M.
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Interdisciplinary research has become quite popular in recent years, yet there are many unanswered questions about it. This dissertation aims to address some of these unanswered questions about interdisciplinary research, including what it is, how to measure it, who is doing it, and what effects it has on the careers of individuals who use it. The first analysis uses cognitive interview data to determine how doctoral candidates conceptualize interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary research. Additionally, this analysis examines an item from the Survey of Earned Doctorates (SED) as a potential indicator of interdisciplinary dissertation research. The interview results suggest that this questionnaire item is a reasonable indicator of interdisciplinary research. Additionally, this analysis finds that interdisciplinary research is a complex topic, and individuals' ideas about what it is vary widely. This diversity of ideas has consequences for measurement, as well as for the successful promotion of interdisciplinarity. The second analysis of this dissertation uses data from the Survey of Doctorate Recipients (SDR), a follow-up survey to the SED, to examine the effects of interdisciplinary dissertation research on a variety of early career outcomes among doctoral graduates in the sciences and social sciences. The results suggest that interdisciplinary doctoral graduates are more likely than non-interdisciplinary graduates to become employed in academia, as opposed to other employment arenas, shortly after doctoral completion. However, of those graduates employed in academia, interdisciplinary researchers are more likely than non-interdisciplinary researchers to hold postdoctoral positions, as opposed to tenure track positions. The final analysis of this dissertation uses SED and SDR data to examine whether there are sex differences in participation in interdisciplinary doctoral research, and whether interdisciplinary research has any consequences for sex-based inequalities in early career outcomes of doctoral graduates in the STEM fields. These analyses suggest that women are slightly more likely than men to conduct interdisciplinary research, but this difference is not substantial. This analysis also determines that interdisciplinary research actually decreases women's (and men's) likelihood of working in male-dominated job categories, and does not appear to play any meaningful role in reducing sex inequalities in the early careers of doctoral STEM graduates.