Thoughts on “Linking learning and research through transdisciplinary competences”
I really liked your blog. As one of the authors of a paper you referred to, I would like to put the transdisciplinary competences in the light of ‘Sustainability Science’. In this context, I couldn’t agree with you more by emphasizing ‘communication skills’ (across disciplines, people, cultures etc.) as a key asset that transdisciplinary students should have. It is a good development that also in many ‘Sustainability Science’ programs a lot of attention is being given to that by teaching students social skills. Also, over the last several years, Sustainability Science programs have acknowledged the importance of the social sciences by including modules on e.g. psychology, sociology, governance and innovation, and by including more qualitative research methods (like participatory approaches).
However, what is worrisome is that this development has gone at the cost of the more natural sciences (like climate science and ecology) and quantitative research methods (like modelling, statistics and multi-criteria analysis). What you may end up with are students that communicate very well, are able to organise a stake-holder session, but do not know when to perform what statistical test, have no idea of the difference between validating and calibrating a model, and write CO2 without the ‘2’ as sub-script.
Concepts as ‘complexity’, ‘resilience’, as well as basic knowledge of the natural sciences are as important as that of the social sciences. Unfortunately, most students seem to be a little hesitant to choose courses or programs that include a fair share of natural sciences. Driven by need to increase student-numbers, program managers opt for the easy way and make their bachelors and masters more appealing to students by entering buzz-words like innovation, social ‘whatever’ etc. (of course, similarly, you also do not want to attract students for the sake of attracting them by using more ‘natural science’ related buzz-word as big-data, data-mining etc.).
A true ‘sustainability scientist’ or ‘transdisciplinary scientist’ should be a communicator, catalyst, mediator, integrator, but also should have proper knowledge of the dynamics of natural and social systems, qualitative and quantitative research methods. This is not an easy task – but then again the problems we are facing today aren’t easy to fix as well.
Kind regards, Pim