Talking interdisciplinarity: Lessons from ARCTOS on basic and applied sciences

By Melina Kourantidou, PhD candidate at the University of Southern Denmark

Successful grant writing is a large concern for many scientists these days, and has become indispensable for career development within academia.  Being a social scientist myself, trained in environmental and resource economics, I have always felt that the dominant presence of natural scientists in review panels of interdisciplinary agencies for grants, works against proposals with a socioeconomic focus. I have felt the same way about reviewers in some interdisciplinary journals within my field, e.g. within fisheries economics.

My experience and interaction with other academics and professionals makes me confident that I am not alone in this. Just to share few examples, I have come across reviews that find the ‘’commons problems’’ from open-access fisheries to be economic jargon in need of a glossary. The ‘’commons’’ first appeared in the natural sciences literature and is therefore not an exclusive domain of economists (see Garrett Hardin’s seminal paper in Science on the tragedy of the commons (1968)). More recently (2009), Elinor Ostrom was awarded the Nobel Prize in economic sciences ‘’for her analysis of economic governance , especially the commons’’. Last year I had a prominent scholar, within behavioral economics pertinent to environmental policy, share with me that a reviewer returned his paper back with the characterization ‘’fiddling’’. I can go on and on with many examples of reviewers blind to the importance of well-established interdisciplinary concepts and approaches. However, the point I want to get across is that academia still lacks behind in effectively supporting interdisciplinary efforts. One reason for that could be that payoffs from research so far have been through increasing specialization and silo mentality which are an obstacle to acquiring the depth needed in breadth of understanding to support such efforts.

The ARCTOS workshop that I attended this January in Tromsø and Svolvær, exposed me to a different school of thought that might not have alleviated my concerns over the challenges of interdisciplinary research, publishing and grant writing, but it definitely did broaden my horizons. The ARCTOS workshop is an annual arrangement for early-career scientists engaged in Arctic research that takes place alongside the Arctic Frontiers conference, under the auspices of the ARCTOS network. My interaction with fellow early-career Arctic scientists helped me step out of my comfort zone and learn more about the cultures and ways of thinking in other disciplines. The instructors were a diverse group of scholars with intimate knowledge of Arctic-related issues within marine ecology, social geography, ecotoxicology, ecophysiology and biochemistry, biology, geosciences, statistics and many more. In addition to the lectures and the team-work, the organizers brought on board research advisors from the Research Council of Norway, as well as successful recipients of other Norwegian and EU grants, to offer tips and advice on how to write successful applications.

On day 1, as a warm-up and introduction to the workshop, Prof. Paul Wassmann brought up the challenges he sees in interdisciplinary research. For him and his marine ecologist peers, one of the main challenges natural scientists have to face lies in uncovering the direct contribution of their research to society. That often hinders their research from being funded, especially when the applied side of their proposed projects appears to be missing, which is an intense ‘’political’’ requirement these days partly stemming from industry needs. Paul shared his concerns that most of the grant calls these days have very short-term goals and horizons (of e.g. 3-5 years), which may not allow for major scientific breakthroughs.

According to Paul, expectations to meet socioeconomic goals and reflect upon entwined policy implications of the proposed research have taken over (especially at EU level grants) and can be expected to overshadow long-term research and therefore continue to undermine basic science. He despaired at the increased pressure for applied research, which he argues lowers the chances in the long-run for innovative scientific ideas. He attributes this phenomenon to the current political trajectory and points at examples of how evaluations of proposals take place, reflecting upon how science has become an instrument that serves political purposes for the most part.

By the end of Paul’s lecture, I felt that my views on the type of research society should be funding were starkly different from Paul’s views. His lecture did, however, successfully engage the group of participants into a very constructive dialogue throughout the workshop. I tried to make full use of this diversity of perspectives and experiences to build a better understanding of the challenges within interdisciplinary research and ways to get it funded. On that note, the UNESCO Science Report aligned with the views of the International Council for Science, finds that ‘’basic science and applied science are two sides of the same coin’’ and further notes that they are ‘’interconnected and interdependent, and, thus, complement each other’’.

In one of my recent works ‘’Research Agendas for Profitable Invasive Species,’’ I raise the issue that in practice, environmental policies often rely heavily on biological/ecological research and can lack economic underpinnings. So something to ask here is, who are the primary policy advisors and who sets the research agendas? It has been reported in the literature that resource mismanagement often stems from the fact that resource managers are primarily trained in biological/ecological sciences and therefore may miss important aspects of basic economic thinking (Karpoff, 1987). However, Karpoff’s argument is vulnerable to criticism today because the field of environmental and resource economics has been growing over the years, receiving increasing attention amongst traditional ecology/biology educational institutions and also wielding significant influence on resource managers and policy makers across the world. It is fair to accept though that there is still a long way to go for effectively reconciling the role of basic sciences with applied sciences as well as to open the door to interdisciplinary approaches compatible with multiple interests. In doing that one needs to consider the complementary features as well as the trade-offs between, on the one hand, basic sciences and applied sciences and, on the other hand, basic sciences and social sciences. The allocation of research resources depends upon various different variables, but as a general principle the next research dollar is better spent where the marginal return is the highest. Economists are generally trained to think at the margin, which is not necessarily the case with other scientists. Given that the payoffs of research in different fields are not clear-cut, it is hard to readily consider how research resources should be prioritized. However, with this article my intention is to point out that we might need to rethink of why funding one type of research should come at the cost of the other.


Many thanks to all the organizers and participants for the wonderful and stimulating 2018 ARCTOS workshop!

The Arctic is no longer on the edge

It is now the epicenter of the world and climate change

By Christy Hehir, PhD Researcher at The University of Surrey, UK.

During the opening speech of the conference, Mikael Damberg (Minister of Enterprise and Innovation of Sweden) said, “The Arctic is no longer on the edge. It is now the epicenter of the world and climate change.”   As the icon of climate change, the Arctic is experiencing year on year growth of tourism – with visitors desperate to see the disappearing landscapes. But can last chance tourism ever be justified environmentally?


My research assesses the impact of travelling on conservation through the means of donations to an environmental/wildlife charity. Further, it explores whether connection to nature is the mechanism by which wildlife travel is converted into financial donations. If last chance destinations can be shown to have a long-term positive impact on the tourists’ environmental behaviours after they leave the site, the net effect for wildlife in general would clearly be a positive one.


Presenting at Arctic Frontiers has enabled me to debut my research within an international arena on sustainable development in the Arctic. Outcomes following discussions with academics, government officials and industry have helped create a firmer foundation for my research and have opened doors for future collaboration. Further the unique opportunity to attend with fellow researchers (across both natural and social sciences) who are equally as energetic and passionate about the future of the Arctic was completely inspiring.

Big thanks to ARCTOS Research Network for sponsoring my attendance.  It has been an honour to be part of the PhD 2018 cohort.

Please connect with me via twitter @christyhehir or email me directly for further information regarding my research .

All we need is Arctic networking!

Written by Meric Karahalil

I almost had no idea regarding Arctic issues as most mid-latitude countries people, before I started to study on my Ph.D. at Istanbul Technical University in Turkey. I feel lucky enough to have advisor who is the director of National Polar Research Center (PolReC). When I started to search what was happening in the polar regions and how does it affect humanity, I realized that it needs more attention than ever not only by Arctic Countries people but also every single person on earth. As also highlighted by some speakers that What happens in Arctic does not stay in the Arctic.


I was looking for conferences and workshops that meeting with senior researchers as well as other early career scientists who are all interested in Arctic issues would help me to understand more. And I found Arctic Frontiers which is one of the main scientific events in the Arctic region and the Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop organized by ARCTOS, and I was very happy to had an opportunity to be there and present my poster.


This year, we were around 24 participants at the workshop coming from different countries. It was said that Turkey’s first representative was me. It was an honor and pleasure for me to be there. Tromsø was not welcome me with the current -15 degrees Celsius as coming from warm country. But It was unique to meet all those warm people with different cultures. And I will support my friends who study on Arctic issues to attend this conference and workshop. The Arctic Frontiers PhD Workshop was actually making the link between each participant involved in very different research interests (social science, politics, natural science). It was nice that we attended not only scientific sessions but also the political part of the conference that we could get to know positions of different countries and regions about Arctic issues. The scientific sessions were wide – from aquaculture in the North to Arctic societies and industrial developments; from circumpolar safety, search and rescue collaboration to shipping issues.


We learned a lot about different interesting and important topics and had the chance to listen to great lectures, presentations, and discussions. The educational program of the workshop lectures given by distinguish Tromsø University professors, Akvaplan-Niva researchers and local Lofoten artists. During the workshop participants were divided into four groups, based on multidisciplinary and international principles. Using an imaginary call for proposals announced by ARCTOS, students prepared four interdisciplinary Arctic-related project proposals and gave an interactive presentation.


All projects were highly appreciated by the jury, but the winner was my gorup: with the proposal SNOW RISK. We learned about how research proposal writing should be and now I feel more prepared to ask for a research grant.

The workshop lasted almost ten days, from 21th of January till 1rd of February – Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Hurtigruten cruies to Svolvær – a small fishery town in the heart of amazing Lofoten Islands.


In addition to the educational program, we had social gatherings  allowing us to get to know each other, to learn something new from different disciplines, and to build our networks. We had excursions to museums and the coastal administration, meetings with artists and a walk around Svolvær acquainting us with the culture, history, people and nature of Norway and Lofoten. It was exciting to know about traditions and culture. Definitely, it was unique due to well-organized travel and accommodation, wise work-life balance during the workshop. And It was so hard to say goodbye to new friends. I hope, rapidly growing Arctic science will give us a chance to get together more than once! All we need is Arctic networking.

Unlocking Inspiration

Written by Jack Whitacre

Artists, designers, and scientists can keep their ears peeled to the methodologies of other projects for inspiration. Rather than stay in a silo we can roam through the intellectual landscape of other disciplines for insights and new possibilities.

This mindset lead to three project concepts which I hope to pursue: a) transforming all of Norway’s aquaculture pens into real-time temperature sensors with WiFi, for a “mesh grid” of seasonal and yearly change in a variety of conditions and inlets; b) placing RFID or GPS in marked fish raised in lab, and then released with migrating cod in the North to trace the migration through time and space and create maps, and points of reference for assessing the impact of climate change; and finally c) placing aquaculture pens in concentric circles around oil driving platforms and other marine installments to measure the impact on fish health and the effects of overlapping industries.

picture Jack

The Arctic Frontiers Conference sparked all of these scientific and commercial ideas. Our group heard leading artists, historians, and scientists, with expertise ranging from policy to marine geology and pollution. There are always more lessons to be learned.

For example, sometimes a paradigm can be turned on its heard: a presenter mentioned a popular, but controversial, paper by Jensen called “Drilling for the environment”. This piece made the case that Norwegian oil extraction was cleaner than Russian extraction so it was better for the Arctic. The principle of turning one concept’s foil into a strength can be very useful for persuasion, new paradigms, and non-binary thinking. We’ve also learned a variety of study mechanisms for natural science experiments. For example, we reviewed the value of replicates in large scale plankton studies and the benefits of fabricating custom equipment and devices, such as floating laboratories.

Finally we’ve learned that science might be able to ‘prove’ the need for further research of any element of a process.Isolating the level of analysis from genetic to cellular to physiological to population, alters lab and field experiments. Whether a scientist works with underwater UAVS, history, or culture, an open mind to the experiences of others increases appreciation and builds inspiration for new projects, collaboration, and discovery.