05.07.2022 | Publikationen

Is interdisciplinary or innovative research beneficial for the impact of early career researchers? A new article by INCHER member Wieczorek and others answers this question by empirical data

Is it advantageous or disadvantageous for young scientists to head for interdisciplinary or innovative research? A quantitative study of about 4000 U.S. physicists and 4000 U.S. psychologists conducted by Oliver Wieczorek under the direction of Said Unger shows differences between the two research cultures. Interdisciplinarity has a beneficial effect on the research impact of physicists, while it has a diminishing effect among psychologists. Moreover, young scientists should pursue novel lines of research - as long as they can be combined with already established lines of research.


Is the pursuit of interdisciplinary or innovative research beneficial or detrimental for the impact of early career researchers? We focus on young scholars as they represent an understudied population who have yet to secure a place within academia. Which effects promise higher scientific recognition (i.e., citations) is therefore crucial for the high-stakes decisions young researchers face. To capture these effects, we introduce measurements for interdisciplinarity and novelty that can be applied to a researcher’s career. In contrast to previous studies investigating research impact on the paper level, hence, our paper focuses on a career perspective (i.e., the level of authors). To consider different disciplinary cultures, we utilize a comprehensive dataset on U.S. physicists (n = 4003) and psychologists (n = 4097), who graduated between 2008 and 2012, and traced their publication records. Our results indicate that conducting interdisciplinary research as an early career researcher in physics is beneficial, while it is negatively associated with research impact in psychology. In both fields, physics and psychology, early career researchers focusing on novel combinations of existing knowledge are associated with higher future impact. Taking some risks by deviating to a certain degree from mainstream paradigms seems therefore like a rewarding strategy for young scholars.

Unger S, Erhard L, Wieczorek O, Koß C, Riebling J, Heiberger RH (2022) Benefits and detriments of interdisciplinarity on early career scientists’ performance. An author-level approach for U.S. physicists and psychologists. PLoS ONE 17(6): e0269991. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0269991