Universities’ structural commitment to interdisciplinary research

Erin Leahey, Sondra N. Barringer, Misty Ring-Ramirez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


In recent years, science policy experts have been promoting interdisciplinary research (IDR) in order to foster innovation and address grand scientific challenges. But to date we know little about whether, how, and to what extent universities are committed to fostering this type of research. This paper develops the first measure of university commitment to IDR, which relies on the organizational structuring of research activity into research centers and departments. We extend the previous literature by measuring, rather than assuming, the interdisciplinary nature of research units. Using a large amount of textual data from 157 research universities in the United States, and combining machine learning and confirmatory factor analysis techniques, we develop a continuous and composite measure that taps universities’ structural commitment to IDR. We then examine the commitment exhibited by specific universities and how such commitment varies by university characteristics like size, resources, and region. Results show that the fraction of centers and departments that are interdisciplinary is critical to measuring a university’s structural commitment to IDR and to developing specific research policies aimed at fostering IDR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)891-919
Number of pages29
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Departments
  • Interdisciplinarity
  • Machine learning
  • Research centers
  • Universities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Library and Information Sciences


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