Klaus Gaertner

Are the Cognitive Sciences really interdisciplinary?

Scientists at the Research Focus Cognitive Sciences of the University of Potsdam say yes. Many of the researchers state that the Research Focus strongly encourages interdisciplinary research. For them, the rationale behind this is two folded: on the one hand, the majority of the researchers agree that the research area Cognitive Sciences is interdisciplinary in nature and on the other hand, that interdisciplinary research increases funding opportunities.

And this is easily visible. The impact of interdisciplinarity in day-to-day practice of the Research Focus is strong. Many of the Labs belonging to the Research Focus include researchers from different disciplinary areas (e.g. Psychologists and Linguists in the Baby-Lab). Also, the Research Focus has its own budget. This fact opens the possibility to get some initial funding directly from the institution to develop interdisciplinary research projects. Even more important is the fact that many of the Chairs involved have partially stable funding. This allows to initialize communication between the disciplines and an exchange of ideas to enable first steps towards interdisciplinary projects.

According to many researchers this is only one part of the story. With this structure in place, there is a habitat for communication and ideas. It is, however, important that projects get submitted to competitive funding processes which guarantee more money for research, a solid scientific structure and scientific merit. It is this healthy mix of funding which seems to nurture interdisciplinary research, helping to get new ideas of the ground, while also guaranteeing scientific quality.

Being an excellent interdisciplinary research institution in development, the Research Focus Cognitive Sciences opens the possibility to observe interdisciplinarity in the making. In this context, the following questions should be kept in mind: does internal funding for interdisciplinary research projects increase or decrease over the years? Does the number of interdisciplinary research projects in general increase or decrease? And, does the Research Focus Cognitive Sciences introduce more possibilities for researchers to meet in an interdisciplinary setting?

Author: Mr Klaus GAERTNER