Women take interdisciplinary route to research

January 29, 1999

A nationwide survey of academics has revealed that women conduct more interdisciplinary research than men.

The findings come from independent consultancy Evaluation Associates, and form part of the higher education funding councils' investigation into whether the research assessment exercise hampers interdisciplinary work.

EA director Andy Boddington said: "We are not sure why women should research differently to men. But what is surprising is how consistent the difference is. Whether it is medical science or performing arts, women spend more time on interdisciplinary research. Only in engineering, where just 10 per cent of academic staff are women, is the amount of interdisciplinary research equal."

The survey also confirms that male researchers dominate senior positions. Almost 30 per cent of female researchers were on short-term contracts, compared with 12 per cent of men; and 86 per cent of men were submitted to the RAE compared with 71 per cent of women.

The survey found women on average spent half their time on interdisciplinary projects, compared with 45 per cent for men. The split was particularly marked in arts - 53 per cent for women and 41 per cent for men - and humanities - 50 per cent for women and 42 per cent for men.

On average, women said their work covered 3.6 subject fields, compared with 3.2 for men. A fifth of women said their work covered seven or more fields, compared with less than 10 per cent of men.

Joyce Tait, director of the Scottish Universities Policy Research and Advice Network, said she was not surprised by the findings.

"I've been doing interdisciplinary research for about 25 years. I think disciplines are about staking out your territory, and I think men are a bit more territorial than women."

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