According to a new report from the National Science Foundation (NSF), about a quarter of Ph.D. candidates conduct interdisciplinary research. This proportion has remained relatively stable over the last decade at approximately 28 percent. The report is based upon self-reported data from new Ph.D. recipients collected by the Survey of Earned Doctorates.

Not all scientific disciplines equally participate in interdisciplinary research. Recent doctorates whose primary thesis research was in agriculture were most likely to report a secondary field of research (39 percent). Biology and earth/atmospheric/oceans sciences ranked second with 35 percent of doctorates conducting interdisciplinary thesis research. Computer science, math, and psychology recipients were the least likely to report conducting interdisciplinary research.

Interdisciplinary thesis research was most likely to occur within the same broad field, such as biology. For instance, a doctorate may report that their primary field of research was in biology (e.g. ecology) and that their secondary field was also biology (e.g. cellular biology). This was most prevalent amongst doctorates in the biological sciences, with 81 percent of interdisciplinary biology doctorates reporting secondary research in biology. This was also the case among most other scientific disciplines. However, when scientists from other fields did select a different secondary field, it was most often biology.

To read the NSF report, please visit


back to Public Policy Reports

Bookmark and Share