“You can get better science and solutions through interdisciplinary collaboration.”

“You can get better science and solutions through interdisciplinary collaboration.”

How do you convince researchers who are used to doing research in clearly defined disciplines to work interdisciplinary? New university professor Arnold Tucker explains.

“You’ll ultimately get better science and solutions through cross-disciplinary collaboration,” Tucker says. He cites one example A research project on circular electronics that he is responsible for. Environmental scientists, technicians, designers, waste specialists and business experts want to work together to reduce the mountain of electronic waste. Some people know how to make electronics sustainable, others know how to easily disassemble a product for recycling, and others can calculate the impact on the environment and whether anything can be gained from it. In this way, science and practice develop sustainable and innovative products in electronics.

University Professor

In addition to being a professor of industrial ecology, Tucker recently became a university professor. In the last post being The mission is to lead the strategic theme of sustainability and promote cross- and interdisciplinary collaboration within them. Tucker was surprised when he was asked to become a university professor, because he had had a relatively short career in science, about ten years. Before that, he worked at TNO for twenty years, where he still works one day a week. His experience at TNO, which is centered around teamwork, helps him implement changes within the university. He sees a lot of individual work being done here and wants to motivate people to look outside their field.

Major social problems

“Universities have a long tradition of working within clearly defined disciplines, where scientific excellence is considered fundamental.” According to the university professor, interdisciplinary research programs are truly necessary to make progress on today’s complex social problems.

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Such programs already exist at Leiden University, for example Liveable Planet. Tukker is trying to expand this network further by talking to many people. At Liveable Planet, four colleges work together to come up with solutions for a more sustainable world. Tucker hopes the College of Law, Humanities and Medicine will also join, and he is already seeing people taking action.

For example, medical students work with students from other faculties in an interdisciplinary thesis laboratory for six months to find out how you can reduce the amount of waste generated in the process by half. As a university professor, Tucker is committed to advancing these types of innovative forms of education. According to him, it is important for students to be exposed to different disciplines to understand that this knowledge is very useful. And learn to ask questions of others.

Just need money

Tucker emphasizes that interdisciplinary research programs, thesis laboratories, and stimulating scientists’ curiosity during meetings are not enough to bring together different disciplines. Money is also simply needed. “Then my TNO perspective became useful again, because I immediately started thinking about how to raise money. Funds for projects come mainly from the NWO and the European Union. These funders know that interdisciplinary work in many fields produces the best scientific and social solutions.” But they prefer to see teams made up of different universities, which is why Tucker is happy with The strategic alliance Leiden-Delft-Erasmus Universities from which many collaborations arise. One such example is the one mentioned above Circular electronics.

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Foreign institutions

Leiden University is also one of the best universities to work with local partners Global South In the field of sustainability. We have a few institutes that have their roots firmly established abroad. For example, our university has institutes in Morocco, Egypt, Turkey and Indonesia where there is a lot of knowledge about these countries and the region and which has a wide network. Tucker wants to investigate possibilities for further cooperation with local partners through these institutes.

Know the role well

The professor points out several times during the conversation that university researchers need to be realistic about the role the university can play in major social upheavals, for example in the field of sustainability. “The university has its own role in all of this. This is different from politicians who can tweak the rules, or consultants who advise on solutions through short-term research, or activists who want to suggest that boundaries have been crossed. Our role is to provide good knowledge about these Types of changes, including transdisciplinary and interdisciplinary research.

Text: Dagmar Arts

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