Interdisciplinary Hiring and Career Development: Guidance for Individuals and Institutions

October 1, 2011

Traditional scholarly evaluation, reward, and promotion systems tend to favor disciplinary and sub-disciplinary research over interdisciplinary approaches. At the same time many important research questions require integration of multiple perspectives, and federal RFPs increasingly require an interdisciplinary approach.

Recognizing the need to develop better means of supporting faculty and researchers who do not fit standard disciplinary and departmental criteria, some institutions are putting in place new guidelines for hiring, and sometimes for reviewing, interdisciplinary scholars.  However, few have developed a comprehensive approach that deals with the entire pre- and post-tenure experience.

The guidance in this report is targeted towards both individuals and academic administrators with the goal of facilitating the development and advancement of interdisciplinary scholars over the course of their careers, and promoting a dialogue about structural issues and options.



Stage 1: Structural Considerations:  Before an interdisciplinary scholar is hired, institutions should consider the conditions under which the scholar will exist. Are hiring, rewards, evaluation and promotion criteria aligned appropriately for the interdisciplinary scholar?  Are there mismatches between departmental structures and cultures, particularly in evaluation metrics and resource availability?  We pose specific questions an institution should ask of itself in reviewing structural arrangements regarding interdisciplinary arrangements. 

Stage 2: Position Creation and Institutional Acceptance: Here we recommend that institutions involve a wide variety of faculty and administrators in the crafting of interdisciplinary position descriptions and performance expectations (see Memorandum of Understanding, Appendix II), as it is vital to gain consensus about goals within the faculty, departments and administration. Special care should be taken with joint appointments in order to manage departmental expectations.

Stage 3: Search and Hiring: Central to our recommendations is defining the process and expectations for all parties.  Additional logistic needs arising from the involvement of multiple departments or units are also considered, for example, articulating to the search committee that different disciplines have different hiring timelines and that it may take longer to set up visits because of the larger number of schedules that have to be accommodated.

Stage 4: Early-Career Scholar Development: We explore the differences in interdisciplinary scholarship and publication, such as the high networking cost of collaborative projects and assessing contributions to multi-authored publications that can create difficulties in the tenure and promotion process.  We suggest steps for faculty, mentors, departments and administrators to reduce those difficulties, such as providing travel support and hosting visiting interdisciplinary speakers.

Stage 5: Reviews and Tenure: Because interdisciplinary scholarship is often collaborative and its outcomes varied and broad, review of interdisciplinary scholars requires special care and attention, in terms of evaluation criteria, dossier preparation, and evaluation process.   We recommend development of interdisciplinary criteria, or if that is not possible, evaluation based on a customized plan, an annotated CV (see Appendix III), and special guidance to letter writers, among other strategies. 

Stage 6: Senior Career Development : Here we recommend resources and rewards, such as merit pay and professional development funds, be made available at the Dean’s level or above, specifically for interdisciplinary activities.  The role of senior faculty in interdisciplinary leadership roles is also addressed.

This report is free for University Afiliates, and $75 for non-Affiliate members.  To order a copy, please fill out the order form or contact Halley Feldman at

Stephanie Pfirman, Lead Editor, Barnard College
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