MRC Human Genetics Unit
Medical Research Council Human Genetics Unit

Report makes recommendations to remove interdisciplinary research barriers

The X-Net project – a partnership between the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee, and Oxford – publishes its recommendations following extensive consultation with the biomedical research community: March 2024

X-Net Word Cloud and Barriers

For science to give maximum benefit to society and the economy, academic research requires root-and-branch reform that transcends individual, siloed disciplines.

Existing Future Leaders Fellowship and PhD programmes have bulldozed barriers for some, yet many seeking to change discipline still face daunting career obstacles. Funders acknowledge these obstacles, but action is urgently required if the next generation of world-leading scientists is to overcome them.

The X-Net project is an interdisciplinary network that aims to understand the barriers to interdisciplinary research and to catalyse the change required to nurture research talent in the UK.

X-Net Diagram

The network’s evidence-based report is a policy roadmap which has been presented to funding bodies and policy makers with a view to influencing improvements in working environments for interdisciplinary researchers, with a particular focus on those in their early careers.

The report, Sweeping Away Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research published on 5 March 2024, highlights common career and funding roadblocks and offers recommendations to increase the retention and impact of interdisciplinary researchers in the UK.

Its 13-step programme of targeted interventions would deeply weave interdisciplinarity into UK scientific research culture and free the flow of ideas and expertise across traditional disciplinary boundaries and sectors.

Recommendations highlight the crucial importance of increasing mobility across disciplines and sectors, nurturing interdisciplinary research environments, and ensuring fair and sustainable evaluation of research.

The report is based on widespread consultations with early career researchers, industry scientists, and key opinion leaders from the biomedical community through UK-wide workshops, surveys, social media engagement, and interviews. The challenges faced are expected to be experienced across most research fields.

Feeling unwelcome

Survey responses highlighted the main obstacles faced by interdisciplinarians working in biomedicine, with 60% of individuals surveyed experiencing some form of hostility or lack of support when crossing disciplines.

“In collaborations, respect is crucial, making sure that people will be treated fairly, especially when it comes to publishing.”

Prof. Dame Carol Robinson, Director of the Kavli INsD, Oxford, and Founder of OMASS Therapeutics Ltd.

Lack of support

Most of the researchers consulted feel there is not enough support from universities and funding agencies for interdisciplinary career paths and that their efforts into activities which lie outside of their existing expertise are underappreciated.  

You work twice as hard, you get half the credit. As an interdisciplinary scientist by training, I feel deeply betrayed by the system. I am aware of my unique skill set. I’m just realising that it may get me stuck in the same career level forever if the evaluation system doesn’t change.

Anonymous respondentX-Net survey

Interdisciplinary research peer-reviewed is difficult because of double jeopardy when being judged and an unhelpful tribal attitude about the use of specific language. We miss opportunities for grants and publishing because of this.

Professor Ewan BirneyDirector EMBL-EBI, and Deputy Director General EMBL

X-Net has exposed feelings of hurt and harm, especially among early career researchers crossing disciplinary boundaries. Some say they feel unwelcomed, misunderstood, with their skills in their first discipline being undervalued in their second. We hope that X-Net’s 13 recommendations will help catalyse the changes needed for science to provide maximum benefit to UK society and economy.

Professor Chris PontingUniversity of Edinburgh

Read the report at

The views and conclusions expressed by X-Net are those of the network and do not necessarily reflect the official position of project collaborators.

The X-Net project is funded by the Medical Research Council and is managed and supported by:

  • MRC Human Genetics Unit, University of Edinburgh​
  • MRC Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit, University of Dundee
  • MRC Translational Immune Discovery Unit, University of Oxford​
  • MRC Molecular Haematology Unit, University of Oxford