Why trans-disciplinary working is necessary and how to facilitate it

Contributing to a research collaboration between Surrey, Bristol and Bath Universities, the funded project-led studentship examines what transdisciplinary (TD) working means within an engineering business context. This funded project-led studentship award for October 2021 will examine trans-disciplinary (TD) working. Researching with universities and business the student will develop approaches and tools to facilitate TD work practices.  

Start date
1 October 2021
3 years for full time students (36 months)
Application deadline
Funding source
The University of Surrey, Project-led Studentship Award.
Funding information
  • Full UK/EU tuition fees 
  • Stipend at £15,285 p.a. (2021/22)  
  • Research Training Support Grant of £1,000 p.a.  


Modern problems are becoming increasingly complex and the proposed pathway to finding solutions is often transdisciplinary (TD) working. TD involves working beyond disciplinary boundaries, applying sciences in practice, shaping social systems and creating value and meaning for society. 

Proposed Research Question 

  1. How do organisations apply TD working in practice? 
  2. Which tools are employed to facilitate TD, how are they classified and what is missing? 

Background & Theoretical Underpinning 

Sitting under the umbrella of the grand Organisational Theory (Jones, 2014), Theory of Paradox examines and seeks to address how organisations can manage and create strategy to address contradicting demands. In the case of TD projects, we perceive a potential paradox in the need for individuals to be niche experts and also generalists able to work across disciplines. This creates challenges in engaging in TD working that require specific tools and methods to overcome. 

In the management and organisation of knowledge production, objects are often used (Centina et al, 2005). Different forms of objects are identified, Boundary, Technical and Epistemic (Ewenstein and Whyte, 2015), that each perform a function in the creation and management of both knowledge and people. Categorisation of objects is challenging as they are employed in different ways and their use continuously evolving (Rheinberger 2010a: p31). 

Proposed Method 

Research will be student led, but we envisage focus on engineering business projects. Multiple case study analysis of University related projects may require interviews and observations of case study firms.  

Outcomes for Theory, Practice and Impact 

The project should lead to suggestions of appropriate contexts for TD working, how paradoxes are addressed, and tools to employ. Research will develop novel theoretical frameworks for analysis of TD working, highlighting knowledge gaps and potentially developing new tools where required.  

Related links
TRansdisciplinary ENgineering Design (TREND) Designing the Future: Resilient Trans-Disciplinary Design Engineers TREND (Transdisciplinary Engineering Design) Research Group Platform: Designing the Future: Resilient Trans-Disciplinary Design Engineers


Cetina, K.K., Schatzki, T.R., and Von Savigny, E., The practice turn in contemporary theory.  Routledge, 2005 

Ewenstein, B. and Whyte, J., “Knowledge practices in design : The role of visual representations as ‘epistemic objects’”, vol. 30, no. 1, 07-30, 2015 

Jantsch, E. Interdisciplinarity Problems of Teaching and Research in Universities. Paris: ERIC, 1972. 

Jantsch, E. “Inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary university: A systems approach to education and innovation”, Policy Science., vol. 1, no. 4, pp. 403–428, 1970. 

Bernstein, J.H. “Transdisciplinarity: A Review of Its Origins, Development, and Current Issues”, Journal of Research Practice, vol. 11, no. 1, Article R1, 2015 

Jones, G. R., Organizational theory, design, and change. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson, 2013 

Rheinberger, H.-J. (2010) An Epistemology of the Concrete. Twentieth-Century Histories of Life, Durham: Duke University Press. 

Smith, W.K and Smith, W. K., “Toward A Theory of Paradox : A Dynamic Equilibrium Model of  Organizing”, Academy of Management Review, vol. 36, no. 2, pp. 381–403, 2016 

Eligibility criteria

Candidates must hold a Merit in Masters and a minimum of 2:1 in Bachelors, or equivalent in Business, Engineering or Education. If you have exceptional circumstances, please contact Professor Parry to discuss. 

Note the project is centred between engineering and business management, examining knowledge transfer, and so applicants with Science, Engineering or Education backgrounds with sufficient knowledge of management studies are also considered. 

Knowledge of qualitative and quantitative research methods is desirable.  

This studentship is only for UK applicants who can commence their PhD in October 2021.

Applicant must be resident in the UK during the period and study and by free to travel to collect data during their studies. 

IELTS requirements: IELTS requirements: 6.5 or above (or equivalent) with 6.0 in each individual category. 

How to apply

Applicants must submit an online application via our online application system.  They must provide colour copies of their Bachelors and Masters official transcripts and degree certificates, Official English translations if the original documents are not in English, an up to date CV, colour copy of their passport,   and provide two references. Please state clearly the project that you are applying for.  

We also request a written statement of purpose, explaining why you want to undertake this project, why you have the requisite skill and how you might approach the work (no more than 600 words). A further piece of your previous course work, publications or section of an MSc thesis should also be submitted.  

Candidates should provide two written academic references, ideally who can be contacted. 

Interview dates to be confirmed, but either 21st or 27th April.  

We suggest applicants contact the supervisory team before applying to discuss their applications.  

Application deadline

Contact details

Glenn Parry
59 MS 03
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 684307
E-mail: g.parry@surrey.ac.uk
Esat Alpay
06 BB 04
Telephone: +44 (0)1483 686555
E-mail: e.alpay@surrey.ac.uk

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