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Read the latest SHAPE-ID toolkit review, published by the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies

A review of the SHAPE-ID toolkit by Professor Rick Szostak has been published in Integrative Pathways, the quarterly newsletter of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies (AIS). Included in the section Interdisciplinary Publications of Note, the column draws attention to works meriting attention of AIS members.

Dated of March 2022 and reposted below, the review suggests starting points for exploring the SHAPE-ID toolkit and provides snapshots of documents that stood out to the author. A careful reader will note that the SHAPE initiative from the British Academy is also mentioned. It’s a coincidence that both these great initiatives promoting the AHSS chose the same acronym.

I was impressed both by the quality of resources and by the care taken in organizing them. Those interested in interdisciplinary teaching, research, career paths, grant evaluation, program administration, and other topics can easily find what they are looking for.

– Professor Rick Szostak

Professor Szostak has taught at the University of Alberta for 35 years. His research interests span the fields of economic history, methodology, history of technology, ethics, study of science, information science, world history, and the theory and practice of interdisciplinarity. He is the author of 19 books, 60 journal articles, and dozens of other publications, including Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory and Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies. He has served on the Board of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies for most of the last decade, and was President 2011-4. He has served on the governing councils of the interdisciplinary programs in Humanities Computing, Science Technology and Society, and Religious Studies at the University of Alberta. Details on his research can be found on his webpage.

The SHAPE-ID Toolkit 

Reviewed by Rick Szostak 

“First: a confession. I have known several people associated with the European Union-funded SHAPE-ID project (Shaping Interdisciplinary Practices in Europe), notably Catherine Lyall and Julie Thompson Klein. However, I had not visited the SHAPE-ID website until pointed there recently by a sage referee. I was impressed both by the quality of resources and by the care taken in organizing them. Those interested in interdisciplinary teaching, research, career paths, grant evaluation, program administration, and other topics can easily find what they are looking for. The website contains a lot of very short documents with titles such as “Ten tips for X” or “Reflective questions about Y” (see below for examples). These are a good place to start for someone, say, who has just started to direct or work in an interdisciplinary program. Yet the website also contains a number of longer documents that delve more deeply into various topics. And there are multiple bibliographies and links to other resources (including multiple references to the AIS website)

One theme that permeates many documents is the challenges of an interdisciplinary academic career. This challenge is even more difficult in Europe than in North America for there are far fewer interdisciplinary teaching programs (or even courses) in European universities. The EU and its member countries have often encouraged interdisciplinary PhDs, but graduates of such programs report struggling to find positions in both disciplinary and interdisciplinary homes. As a result, many survive on temporary jobs.  One clear recommendation of the SHAPE-ID project as a whole is for governments to support interdisciplinary career trajectories.  [I note here that the Global Alliance for Interdisciplinarity and Transdisciplinarity, of which AIS is a member, has formed a working group on Early Career Academics.]

Here are snapshots of a few documents that stood out but, to reiterate, I would stress again that the website has a wide variety of materials on diverse topics:   This document addresses what human science can contribute to projects grounded in natural science such as studies of climate change. The document urges social scientists and humanists to place research in human context, shape research questions, understand human complexity, provide historical or ethical perspective, reflect on terminology and narratives, identify side effects of proposed interventions, and give advice on how to communicate research results.  This 43-page joint publication of the British Academy and SHAPE-ID urges interactions between policy makers and human scientists. It summarizes a variety of successful examples in which academic research supported public policy. To quote:  “Crucially, and as the case studies presented here demonstrate, knowledge exchange operates in both directions. Wider society can apply the knowledge and skills generated in universities, and insights from the wider world inspire the research and teaching in universities. Knowledge exchange places an emphasis on mutual benefits in contrast to the often-unidirectional nature of research ‘impact’” (p.7). The report urges increasing funding of such efforts, measuring policy impact, and engaging the public and communities [as is advocated by our colleagues in TD-net] to reduce distrust of experts.  This 2016 document–subtitled “Interdisciplinary Institutions, Careers, Education, and Applications”– recognizes challenges in pursuing an interdisciplinary career. It recommends institutions and journals pursue strategies to fairly evaluate interdisciplinary research.  It further recognizes that forging interdisciplinary teams takes time, and existing funding mechanisms do not provide the necessary long-term support. The report laudably recognizes the importance of interdisciplinary teaching.  While appreciating that interdisciplinarity requires a particular set of skills, it nevertheless urges scholars to seek a disciplinary home first and to teach in disciplines. My favourite advice involves the importance of interdisciplinarity for public policy: “even if the research findings originate in distinct disciplines, their full value to policymakers will be revealed only after they have been combined into a coherent, IDR package.” (p.81) This statement reinforces the importance of conversations with both researchers and government officials.  This 2020 OECD report urges governments to engage, and ministries to collaborate with university researchers in transdisciplinary research. Universities are urged to support cross-disciplinary structures, build links to the wider community, institute changes to career evaluation, encourage early career researchers to pursue interdisciplinarity, teach transdisciplinarity, and exchange best practices internationally. [AIS and its kindred organization in the Global Alliance have long been pursuing these goals.]

With respect to the shorter documents, Catherine Lyall’s tips on policy advice are particularly valuable ( It is also very much worth clicking the links to Christian Pohl and Isabel Fletcher’s tips on evaluating interdisciplinary research (, and the reflective tool on administering interdisciplinary programs (

I might also mention, for we only rarely talk explicitly about how to mentor young interdisciplinary scholars.

This is, I stress, just a sampling. As noted above, the website is very well organized, and thus easy to browse. There is also a set of video guides accessible from the main page that can guide you to useful resources.”

This review was published by Integrative Pathways, the quarterly newsletter of the Association for Interdisciplinary Studies (AIS), and reposted here with permission from the Editor of Integrative Pathways James Welch IV and the author Rick Szostak.

The Association for Interdisciplinary Studies (formerly Association for Integrative Studies) is an interdisciplinary professional organization founded in 1979 to promote the interchange of ideas among scholars and administrators in all of the arts and sciences on intellectual and organizational issues related to furthering integrative studies. Incorporated as a non-profit educational association in the State of Michigan, it has an international membership. You can find them at

To view the SHAPE-ID toolkit now and access downloadable resources, click here.

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