Nature 454, 27 (3 July 2008) | doi:10.1038/454027b; Published online 2 July 2008

Reality lags behind rhetoric in building interdisciplinary work

Danae Rebecca Dodge1

  1. Graduate School of Archaeology, West Court, 2 Mappin Street, University of Sheffield, Sheffield S1 4DT, UK


As a PhD student in archaeology and genetics, I am all too aware of the difficulties in crossing a gaping discipline divide, as well as of their effect on academic career prospects, as discussed in the Naturejobs article 'Assembly work' (Nature 453, 422–423; 2008).

For my master's degree in biomolecular archaeology, I needed a foot in two UK universities: one in the University of Manchester's biology department and the other in the University of Sheffield's archaeology department. My former lecturers later became part of the Manchester Interdisciplinary Biocentre (MIB) and the MSc course shifted to Sheffield, where eventually the programme ceased.

This closure was a disappointment for the nascent field of bioarchaeology, set to thrive only on a foundation of solid postgraduate training. Although the MIB and other new centres for interdisciplinary research are enthusiastically welcomed, they are few and far between and so able to offer only limited postdoctoral prospects.

Opening such centres and creating training programmes is not enough — it is also necessary to make interdisciplinary fields attractive to graduates and for senior academics to appreciate their significance. This would improve project turnover, bringing more funding to collaborative projects that would sustain interdisciplinary centres and allow academics from each discipline to gauge publications on an equal footing.

Perhaps then my search for a postdoctoral position in bioarchaeology would be easier. Although interdisciplinary projects are viewed as hot topics, in reality they lag behind as they await official establishment and recognition.