The UK Higher Education Academy's 2009 report 'Developing undergraduate research and inquiry' (see http://go.nature.com/WtYWpk) encourages greater student participation in departmental research. This is a welcome cultural shift from the traditional route of studying published research papers and undertaking research projects in separate undergraduate modules. It could also provide an ideal opportunity for mainstreaming interdisciplinary research in undergraduate science education.
This would mean going beyond the occasional, often experimental, cross-departmental module. Most undergraduate science courses can be designed and delivered so that subject-based theories are taught alongside research results arising from their interdisciplinary applications. Courses aimed at developing key research skills, such as literature review and communication, would be all the more useful if they embraced interdisciplinary research content.
Students engage in the research process by tackling research problems based on published papers. The importance of interdisciplinary research through analysis and critical comparison of original published work cannot be overstated, given the predominant use of subject-based textbooks in today's undergraduate science education.
Making the transition to postgraduate research from undergraduate modules is not easy and is not necessarily successful at present. Earlier engagement with interdisciplinary research methodologies and results is likely to reveal fresh horizons to the next generation of scientists.
Rights and permissions
About this article
Cite this article
Tong, C. Let interdisciplinary research begin in undergraduate years. Nature 463, 157 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/463157b