Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation
Research Young Academy Groningen What we do Interdisciplinarity

Interdisciplinary PhD projects - Benefits, Challenges & Recommendations

The interdisciplinary working group of the YAG evaluated the interdisciplinary  PhD projects in 2021 in a session with several YAG supervisors and in a separate session  with YAG PhD students. We also conducted an anonymous survey among YAG  supervisors and PhD students. In total, 17 out of 27 supervisors, and 10 out of 15 students responded to this survey. In general, all interviewed supervisors and PhD students  emphasised the positive aspects of the interdisciplinary PhD projects. For many  supervisors it has been a unique and refreshing experience, and it also resulted in very  innovative contributions to their fields leading to international peer-reviewed  publications and successful grant applications.

We highlighted some of the positive aspects that were mentioned but also the challenges from supervisors and students involved in interdisciplinary PhD projects below. You can read the full report here.

Positive aspects 


• See the student integrated in two complementary disciplines 
• Insights in new/other fields 
• Broad perspective 
• Reflecting on own field 
• Learn about other faculties and how they work 
• Publications in top journals 
• Successful creative research and innovative grant proposals 

PhD students: 

• Ability to learn from different disciplines 
• Work on a completely new topic 
• Supportive supervisors 
• Always someone to ask questions to



• Having to learn about a new field/not mastering the other field  
• Having projects take place partially in two different research groups or locations  
• Organisational difficulties (planning, deadlines, meetings, agreements on bench fee)  
• More time-consuming than other projects because need to become  familiar with a different field and increased time spent on communication within the team  
• Finding a common language and others with shared interests  
• Finding an PhD student with the appropriate skills 

PhD students: 

• Workload 
• Splitting time between faculties, groups and approaches (e.g. attend meetings,  presentations in both departments) 
• Can feel like you do not fit in either department 
• Finding others with shared interests 
• Different communication / writing styles in different departments 

The following recommendations are made to improve the success of interdisciplinary PhD  projects: 

1. The supervisors should have affinity with both fields and feel comfortable in  supervising their part of the project; 
2. There should be weekly team meetings including both supervisors; 
3. There should be an active exchange about discipline specific incentives, traditions,  publication cultures etc.; 
4. Expectations on the time allocation of the student in both fields should be discussed  in advance and repeated regularly depending on the final evolvement of the project.  
5. There is a need for clear formal agreements between faculties on practicalities  (budget, bench fee, promotion premium, registration etc.).

Last modified:12 June 2023 11.05 a.m.