Since the 1980s, Stanford has founded 18 interdisciplinary institutes that bring faculty together from different schools and departments. The goal is for people from diverse backgrounds to bear on challenges in areas like health and the environment that go beyond what those from one discipline can solve alone.
“The million dollar question is which features about these supercenters are the most important,” says education professor Daniel McFarland, PhD, in the video above. “Which characteristics and programs and aspects of them that they entail have the greatest influence?”
McFarland has studied several of Stanford’s interdisciplinary institutes, including Stanford Bio-X, to identify programs or other factors that have done the most to encourage collaboration..
What he’s learned is that location matters. Faculty who are in interdisciplinary buildings tend to collaborate more, especially when there’s coffee. Also, grants for interdisciplinary research bring faculty together, as does co-mentoring students.
“We do find repeatedly that the organic process of collaboration [and] facilitating that through various kinds of open environment use of space has a means of catalyzing more research than our imposed programs,” he says.
More faculty talk about the value of collaboration in their work as part of the Stanford Interdisciplinary website.