Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name

Communication Studies

Department or School/College

Department of Communication Studies

Committee Chair

Gregory Larson

Commitee Members

Betsy Bach, Bill Holben


postgraduate science programs, cross-disciplinary collaboration, discourse, interdisciplinary science, NSF IGERT programs, identity, integrative science


University of Montana


Conducting scientific research that integrates multiple disciplines is an increasingly important, and yet challenging endeavor. This study employs the construct of identity to characterize and examine the obstacles to successful interdisciplinary work. It is argued that identity provides a useful lens into the process of scientific investigation, because as a construct, it has been shown to influence the way one sees oneself, others, and the practice of “good science.” It is therefore assumed that scientists’ identities may be an under-examined, mitigating factor in whether they develop an interest and aptitude for interdisciplinary collaboration. This study qualitatively examines 20 postgraduate students participating in a number of potential Ph.D. programs, both traditional (mathematics, biology, computer science), and interdisciplinary (an NSF-funded Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program). In-depth interviews and participant observations are used to obtain firsthand accounts of the participants’ experiences in their respective programs, to understand how they construct their identity amidst that experience, and to solicit their attitude towards interdisciplinary work. Results indicated important differences between the traditional science students, and those in the interdisciplinary program. Although all postgraduate students reported experiencing high pressure to be successful, and ambiguity as to how to accomplish that success, the interdisciplinary students in particular reported a felt need to commit to either a traditional science identity, or to an interdisciplinary science identity. Consequently, the IGERT students developed varying levels of attachment towards being a traditional scientist, versus being an interdisciplinary scientist. Additionally, the students exhibited tendencies to express their identities in context to one of three preferential frames: Social-relational, Occupation-based, or Research problem-based. Those who expressed their identities as Research problem-based also tended to display stronger attachment to their interdisciplinary identities. This research suggests practical feedback for overcoming the barriers to interdisciplinary work, while also offering insights into the identity work that accompanies the competing discourses of traditional sciences versus that of emerging interdisciplinary science.



© Copyright 2010 Nicholas Richard Burk