“The Science System Has to Change!”

Gabriel Wendorf discusses the need for transdisciplinary research

Dr. Wendorf, you recently published a paper together with international colleagues in the journal “Nature Sustainability” (a subsidiary journal of “Nature”) on the global absence of an environment in which transdiciplinary research can develop. Why did you feel it necessary to raise this concern?
Transdiciplinary work is essential and not only for the purpose of anchoring sustainability in all areas of research. If we do not achieve sustainability, in other words a secure basis for how we live, we are jeopardizing the lives of future generations. A transdisciplinary approach to issues such as the phasing out of coal are required if we are to make the complex issue of sustainability an integral part of research and science. We have to raise people´s awareness of this.

Perhaps you could just explain once again what the essence of transdisciplinary research is.
Transdisciplinary research requires the involvement of non-academic entities in the formulation of research questions, right from the outset. Their questions have to be incorporated into the research agenda and their expertise made part of the project.

So the citizen science projects increasingly being conducted at TU Berlin are a form of transdisciplinary research?
Exactly. TU Berlin is actually in the vanguard of transdisciplinary research: The founding of the Center for Technology and Society more than 20 years ago has proven very farsighted. Nearly all the Center´s projects are transdisciplinary. Many precedent-setting decisions have also been taken in recent years by Christine Ahrend, vice president for research, appointment strategy, knowledge & transfer.

In their paper, the authors make very clear the need for a new generation of researchers to conduct transdisciplinary research. Why is this?
Transdisciplinary research is highly complex and calls for researchers with a complex training. Up until now, however, such training has not been provided by the university system. There is no systematic approach to training and education in this regard. This is a global problem. All the leading institutions working in sustainability research are aware of this gap. In short, the science system has to undergo a global change if we are to find sufficiently swift solutions to future problems.

Interview: Sybille Nitsche