Pathways to Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research: Introducing the SHAPE-ID Toolkit

Original illustration by Linong Ding, Edinburgh College of Art student

In this post, Isabel Fletcher describes the many attributes of the new SHAPE-ID Toolkit that aims to provide resources to support inter – and transdisciplinary research. Dr Isabel Fletcher is a Senior Research Fellow in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies at The University of Edinburgh. This post is part of the Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme: Showcasing the Doctoral College.

Inter- and transdisciplinary (ID and TD) research involve integrating insights and approaches and collaborating with partners from other academic disciplines, as well as enterprise, civil society, and more, often to address a problem that can’t be solved by a single discipline. This can be a rewarding career path and is appealing to many researchers, yet it is a less common route through academia,  and can be more challenging to navigate as an early career researcher. The SHAPE-ID toolkit, launched in June 2021, is the culmination of over two years of work trying to understand the barriers to ID and TD research and identify pathways to help researchers, universities, funders, policymakers, and societal partners learn more about interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research involving the Arts, Humanities and Social Science, and take concrete steps to improve how they do it. The toolkit includes curated resources, case studies, reflective tools, and interviews with experts. It covers topics ranging from understanding interdisciplinarity, developing the skills needed to bridge disciplinary divides, and developing an interdisciplinary career, through to supporting, funding, and evaluating collaborative research. The toolkit is the final output of the Horizon 2020 project SHAPE-ID: Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe.

The toolkit is designed to gather key resources – some already existing and others developed by the project team – in an accessible and searchable format. It is structured around key tasks such as understanding interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research, developing collaborative conditions and establishing a career in interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research. There are guided pathways according to role and topic along with a short guided video tour aimed specifically at researchers to help them identify relevant resources. These include journal articles and book chapters, reports, short interviews with key figures in the field, blogposts and webinars. Early career researchers may be particularly interested in the following topics: understanding what interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary research are and why they are worthwhile; how to create collaborative conditions and co-create a successful research project; how to engage and communicate with collaborators from other disciplines and other sectors; and how to develop a career in inter- and trans-disciplinary research.

Image courtesy of author

Some of our individual guides and resources early career researchers might find useful include:

  • A collection of Reflective Tools consisting of practical questions to consider at key stages in the research process. These include one tool for those considering collaboration and another for those at the beginning stages of a collaborative research project.
  • A series of Top Ten Tips drawing on the expertise of the SHAPE-ID team. They cover aspects of inter- and transdisciplinary research: from writing an ID/TD research proposal and working in multi-stakeholder groups, to establishing a career in inter-and transdisciplinary research (see below), and how institutions can support inter- and transdisciplinary researchers.

We know that inter- and transdisciplinary careers can be risky for researchers – and that’s on top of the difficulties researchers face even when pursuing academic careers within their disciplines – yet many also find their own pathway and find great satisfaction in doing such research, which enables them to push the boundaries of their disciplines, learn from collaboration with others, and contribute to pressing societal challenges. Our Case Studies section and page on Understanding… showcase Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences led research projects and initiatives to increase participation in inter- and transdisciplinary research.

The Developing a Career in Inter- and Transdisciplinary Research section of the toolkit  provides some key resources,  including Top Ten Tips for inter- and transdisciplinary academic careers from SHAPE-ID’s Catherine Lyall, which highlights points like: this is hard’, you need a community, mentors, really look for opportunities to develop metaskills, think about communication about your research – and share what you’re learning. The section also includes some short thoughtful videos from members of our expert panel, and a number of resources around specific challenges, such as creating an ID/TD CV, building and sustaining a career, and developing a network.

The Improve Research Skills section explains that IDR/TDR requires certain transversal skills – strong communication, leadership and integration skills, and the ability to work with others to bridge gaps in understanding and expectations – alongside disciplinary skills. It includes key resources, such as a great MOOC on TDR from the Swiss Network for TDR, our Top Ten Tips for writing an inter- and transdisciplinary research proposal and the SHAPE-ID webinar discussing the type(s) expertise needed for inter- or transdisciplinary integration. Further resources gathered address ID/TD training, integration skills, proposal writing, ID/TD tools and methods, and lots more.

Image courtesy of author

All of the SHAPE-ID resources are available as downloadable PDFs that we hope will be used by individuals and shared in workshops or training events. If you do use them please let us know what you think of them, and if you would like to learn more about our toolkit feel free to get in touch with us any time by emailing the Project Manager at

You can also read and comment on our blog posts, follow SHAPE-ID on Twitter or Facebook and check out our website for more regular updates. We look forward to hearing from you!

Isabel Fletcher

Dr Isabel Fletcher is a Senior Research Fellow in Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, at the University of Edinburgh. Isabel is a qualitative social scientist whose research is based in science and technology studies, but also incorporates approaches from sociology and food policy. She has research interests in policy approaches to food, nutrition and eating, and the ways in which interdisciplinary research is used to address complex social problems. She has worked in a variety of interdisciplinary contexts on public health models of obesity, food security policy, and sustainable diets. Isabel is a co-convenor of the interdisciplinary network Food Researchers in Edinburgh (FRIED).

Linong Ding

Linong is a newly graduate M.F.A student of Edinburgh College of Art, major in illustration. They got their B.E degree as an undergrad. Their inspiration usually comes from fiction and folklore. They always found them strange and sometimes creepy but in a fascinating way. They love both ancient and futuristic fantasies.

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