Research seminar: Interdisciplinary learning and teaching provision: findings from a UK study

In a series: Educational Research Seminars 2015-16
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Professor Catherine Lyall shares the findings of a recent study into interdisciplinary learning and teaching in the UK


Catherine Lyall

Educational research seminar 17 March 2016

Interdisciplinary learning and teaching provision: findings from a UK study

Professor Catherine Lyall, Professor of Science and Public Policy, University of Edinburgh

Recognition of the need for interdisciplinary research to address global, societal challenges is accelerating. Policymakers and non-governmental organisations frequently call for an evidence base that integrates social, cultural and economic dimensions with the natural and medical sciences.

This evolving landscape generates new demands for global citizens and future employees who have the skills to work in multi-professional teams and adopt holistic approaches to complex problems but higher education largely remains structured on a conventional, disciplinary basis. While disciplines will continue to underpin the foundations of our knowledge, nonetheless the issue of interdisciplinary provision becomes increasingly relevant for institutions preparing students for a changing world.

This talk will report on some of the findings from a study, commissioned by the UK Higher Education Academy, which sought to map the scale and type of current interdisciplinary provision within the UK; to assess future trends; and to identify some of the core principles and pedagogies supporting interdisciplinarity in undergraduate and postgraduate taught education.

Catherine Lyall is Professor of Science and Public Policy at the University of Edinburgh. She is currently seconded to the Institute for Academic Development to contribute to the university’s strategy for interdisciplinary research and to develop a range of new opportunities to support the work of interdisciplinary researchers. She is an experienced science policy researcher and evaluator of knowledge exchange and interdisciplinary research activities who has acted as a consultant to a number of public bodies including the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), Scottish Funding Council, the Higher Education Academy and the European Commission.

Her publications include Interdisciplinary Research Journeys (with Ann Bruce, Joyce Tait and Laura Meagher, Bloomsbury Academic, 2011); a special section of Science and Public Policy (with Isabel Fletcher, 2013) on ‘Investing in Interdisciplinarity’; and a paper in Futures that explores the UK research community’s engagement with ‘transdisciplinarity’ (with Laura Meagher and Ann Bruce, 2015).

Links to these publications and other resources, including a series of short, four-page guides to different aspects of interdisciplinary research can be found at

Catherine Lyall’s web page: