On the Strength of Interdisciplinarity

I write to you now from Australia, where I have begun a Master of International Public Health at the University of Sydney. In my first few weeks, I have been astounded by the amount of global diversity within our program. I am privileged to share a classroom with students from Malawai, Nigeria, Ecuador, Nepal, Pakistan, Belize, Uganda, Congo, Rwanda, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, and others. Adding further to this richness of global diversity is the diversity of the students’ academic backgrounds.

Where our students come from - Master of International Public Health at the University of Sydney

Where our students come from – Master of International Public Health at the University of Sydney

Interdisciplinary work in the academic setting is sometimes dismissed as lacking effectiveness, efficiency, or strategy, and the difficulty of doing interdisciplinary work is sometimes regarded as impractical. Yet interdisciplinarity in the field of international public health is one of our core strengths. In our program, we have medical doctors, social scientists, community workers, engineers, historians, policy makers, and even some veterinarians. In the classroom, we hold each other accountable for different types of knowledge and contexts, not only of situations on the ground, but also in methods of knowing. Research methodology, study designs, epistemologies, and measurements vary greatly between these fields, yet each perspective is crucial to solving the complex array of problems and promises affecting global health today.

Dalk, Grobstein and McCormack (2004) have written that “the very nature of interdisciplinarity, as we understand it, requires that those who engage in it will always be working beyond the edges of what they know how to do well; in conception and methodology, such work cannot become conventional” (1). The problems we face in global health are anything but conventional. They are multifaceted and constantly shifting; they involve a multitude of human sectors and non-human actors, from environmental variables to the ‘bugs’ that infect us; and they require sophisticated minds to parse out the interactions between them.

The strength of interdisciplinarity is when our “edges” fold together, overlap, and sometimes collide, in order to gain richer, more contextual understandings of the complex problems of human health.


Dalk, Grobstein and McCormack. (2004). “Theorizing interdisciplinarity: the evolution of new academic and intellectual communities.” http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/local/scisoc/theorizing.html


About Amanda Counts Tanner

Sociologist; social justice activist; writes about international public health
This entry was posted in Academia, Global Health, Public Health, Sociology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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