Building a Sustainable University-Wide Interdisciplinary Graduate Program to Address Disasters

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Disasters continue to devastate communities across the globe, and recovery efforts require the cooperation and collaboration of experts and community members across disciplines [1-3]. The Disaster Resilience and Risk Management (DRRM) program, funded through the National Science Foundation (NSF) Research Traineeship (NRT), is an interdisciplinary graduate program that brings together faculty and graduate students from across one large, mid-Atlantic university in order to develop novel transdisciplinary approaches to disaster-related issues. The project seeks to improve understanding and support proactive decision-making relative to disaster resilience by establishing a sustainable transdisciplinary graduate education and research program capable of developing the next generation of researchers, educators, and decision makers.

In this paper, we briefly describe the program’s goals and current status, then focus on the supports and barriers to helping graduate students develop interdisciplinary professional identities, drawing on frameworks for identity-based motivation to guide our analysis. As we have reported elsewhere [4], annual interviews with program participants suggest that while some students experience substantial interdisciplinary identity development, not all students who join the program want to become interdisciplinary scholars, and even some of those who do seek such development experience multiple institutional and structural barriers. Given the extensive investment in interdisciplinary graduate programs nationally, we argue that a deeper understanding of how and why graduate students do – and perhaps more importantly, do not – develop interdisciplinary identities can help inform future development of interdisciplinary programs.