SMITH BRAIN TRUST — Researchers can discover creative solutions to complex problems when they combine know-how from different disciplines, but they should understand the potential penalties involved. A new study, co-authored by Christine Beckman at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, shows risks and rewards for multidisciplinary research.
The paper, published in the March 2017 issue of Administrative Science Quarterly, explores two factors that hinder productivity. First is that learning and integrating across multiple areas is mentally taxing. Mastery can be slower to develop when "time, energy and, effort are distributed across many categories,” the paper says.
A second factor involves logistical hurdles. Anyone who has lived and worked overseas understands the challenges of cross-cultural communication. Something similar happens when research partners “grow up” in different academic environments.
Preferred research methods and peer review standards often vary, which can slow down a project and result in fewer published papers. This can represent a serious deterrent for young faculty member trying to make tenure.
The challenges become more pronounced when researchers attempt to span distant categories. Bridging geography and optics, for example, might require a greater stretch than bridging civil and chemical engineering.
Once published, however, the payoffs for multidisciplinary research can be huge. Rewards include increased citations and scholarly visibility. “It is a high-risk, high-reward endeavor,” concludes the study, based on an analysis of 32,000 scholarly papers from nearly 900 scientists.
Read more: Leahey, Erin, Christine M. Beckman, and Taryn L. Stanko. (2017). “Prominent But Less Productive: The Impact of Interdisciplinarity on Scientists’ Careers.” Administrative Science Quarterly. 62(1): 105-139.
Christine Beckman is a professor in the Management and Organization Department at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. She serves as Smith School Diversity Officer and is academic director at the school’s Center for Social Value Creation.
Research interests: Gender-related issues, including the promotion of women in corporate law firms, the expression of emotion in female-founded organizations, how men and women experience the boundaries between their personal and professional lives differently, and the relationship between female board membership and corporate wrongdoing. More generally, she is known for her research on organizational learning, interorganizational networks and entrepreneurship, particularly on how collaborative relationships and diverse experiences facilitate organizational change.
Selected accomplishments: Associate Editor, Administrative Science Quarterly; Chancellor’s Fellow, University of California, Irvine; 2006 Ascendant Scholar, Western Academy of Management.
About this series: The Smith School faculty is celebrating Women’s History Month 2017 in partnership with ADVANCE, an initiative to transform the University of Maryland by investing in a culture of inclusive excellence. Daily faculty spotlights support activities from the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives, culminating with the sixth annual Women Leading Women forum on March 30, 2017.
Other fearless ideas from: Rajshree Agarwal | Ritu Agarwal | Leigh Anenson | Kathryn M. Bartol | Christine Beckman | Margrét Bjarnadóttir | M. Cecilia Bustamante | Rellie Derfler-Rozin | Waverly Ding | Wedad J. Elmaghraby | Rosellina Ferraro | Rebecca Hann | Amna Kirmani | Hanna Lee | Hui Liao | Wendy W. Moe | Courtney Paulson | Louiqa Raschid | Rebecca Ratner | Rachelle Sampson | Debra L. Shapiro | Cynthia Kay Stevens | M. Susan Taylor | Vijaya Venkataramani | Janet Wagner | Yajin Wang | Yajun Wang | Liu Yang | Jie Zhang | Lingling Zhang | PhD Candidates
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