Multidisciplinarity – interdisciplinarity in tackling global challenges

A special issue of Nature, September 17, 2015 published articles on interdisciplinarity in science. The article by Robert Van Noorden shows some interesting figures and numbers on this topic. The popularity of interdisciplinary has been varying over time, but currently it seems to be on the rise and is the most popular ever now in the twenty-first century.

Is interdisciplinarity needed? Scientists, policymakers and also funders consider it important in solving complicated questions. Horizon2020 programmes, for example, strongly emphasise interdisciplinary approaches and also require an evaluation of impact of the proposed research from different points of view.

Does interdisciplinarity have impact? It depends on how you measure it and what is the timeframe. In terms of citations, papers with less interdisciplinarity gained more citations compared to those with more interdisciplinarity over a 3-year period. However, in a longer period up to 13 years citations of the more interdisciplinary papers overcame those with a less diverse scope. Of course, impact is not only counting citations but considering other impact such as societal, health, technological and economic impact as well.

Is interdisciplinary research easy to do? Nowadays, research often needs expertise of different fields of science. “Low hanging fruit” in science are not easy to catch any more. It may take time to find the common language between experts from different disciplines. It takes time to deliver, but it can be rewarding.

Is it related to the field of science? It is notable that e.g. clinical medicine papers rarely cite papers from other disciplines of science. On the other hand “health science” in a broader sense and social studies of medicine in particular seem be very interdisciplinary.

Does it work in Finland? There are still too many barriers between universities, faculties, departments, professions, and research groups. The strategic research funding (STN) funding instrument is one way to facilitate interdisciplinarity – however, top down. I think that it is better to promote science across borders and spontaneous interaction between research groups with different expertise – bottom up.

It is not easy but it may be rewarding and productive. I recommend it!

Hilkka Soininen (2)Hilkka Soininen
Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences

Power naps for hard workers

Chancellor Angela Merkel dashes from one meeting to the next between cities in Europe, and sometimes pops across the Atlantic, too. Negotiations often stretch into the small hours, and getting enough sleep is a scarce luxury, not to mention the jet lag on top of all.  Angela Merkel, however, has said that four hours of sleep is enough for her. We’ve seen similar stretching here in Finland at the time of collective bargaining. In pressing situations where a solution must be reached, long hours and marathon meetings are nothing new under the sun. But are we talking about conscious negotiation tactics or about something the situation requires? One can’t help but wonder in how sound mind and body important decisions are being made. A massive machinery is at work behind negotiations, of course, but it still takes stamina.

The need for sleep is individual. Most of us need seven or eight hours of sleep per night, some do fine with just four. But we all know from experience that too little sleep lowers our performance. Our energy levels sink, we lose concentration, we have trouble remembering things and we get irritated. Long-term lack of sleep makes us susceptible to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, overweight, stress, memory problems and even memory diseases and depression, and it weakens our immune system.

Here at the university, both students and staff members put in long hours every week. There’s a lot to do and deadlines to meet.  Moreover, involvement in international networks requires travelling: early starts and late returns. Students, too, can find themselves in cross pressure between work and exams. There’s nothing like stress and work-related worries when it comes to losing sleep.

After a tough week, one needs to recover. It’s a good thing that a night of little sleep and sleep debt can be compensated for.  During the weekend, for example, recovery sleep can be used to help the body recover. In other words, power napping is something to be recommended: it’s free and good for health.

Hilkka Soininen (2)Hilkka Soininen

MEP elections – who’s interested in education and research?

I couldn’t resist the temptation to try out a voting advice application. YLE, the Finnish Broadcasting Company, has made its voting advice application into a nice entertainment package that one can enjoy with or without sound.

Peace, security, jobs, equality, federal state, climate change, economy, debt and tax paradises are words frequently found in the descriptions of the MEP candidates in YLE’s voting advice application. I read through three election promises from 200 Finnish MEP candidates, and only two of them mention education and one mentions research.

“We need to ensure a high level of education and research – for growth and employment,” says a candidate of the Swedish People’s Party of Finland.  “I promise to promote tuition-free education in the EU and to defend tuition-free education in Finland,” says a candidate of the Left Alliance.

Are things really so well in Europe that education and research are nowhere near the top of the priority list? Or are they just being taken for granted? Or do we have other, more pressing problems that need solving? Or is it just safer to address the same trendy themes as everybody else?

We shouldn’t forget that education and research play a role in creating the foundations for peace, security, equality, stable economic development, innovations and new jobs.

On the other hand, the EU offers funding opportunities for education and research, and we have just witnessed the launch of the Erasmus+ and Horizon2020 programmes. The door to internationalisation, networking and conducting research is open. All we have to do is to seize this opportunity.

Although the Finnish MEP candidates don’t seem to be that much interested in issues of importance to the academic community, I encourage everyone to vote nonetheless. It’s important to have skilled people in the European Parliament.

Hilkka Soininen (2) Hilkka Soininen