The  graduate interdisciplinary specialization trains graduate students to become wicked scientists who are able to tackle the grand challenges of today and tomorrow—what are otherwise known as wicked problems.

Picture of wicked scientist and list of competencies.

The concept of wicked problem describes a wide range of global challenges including climate change, food security, growing inequality, cyber security, and emerging infectious diseases. Wicked problems have two fundamental properties: (1) they are dynamic, complex systems with many interdependencies; and (2) stakeholders have different values, interests and conceptions of the problem and its solution. Because wicked problems are complex and political, it is impossible to “solve” them.

Because the most pressing problems in the world are wicked problems, it is no longer sufficient for graduate students to be experts in their respective fields. They also need to have the necessary skills to collaborate effectively with diverse teams of researchers and stakeholders.

The need for graduate students with both deep disciplinary training and the transdisciplinary soft skills to tackle wicked problems has been identified in numerous reports from the National Science Foundation, National Academies of Sciences, Council of Graduate Schools, and organizations like Google.

The goal of the Graduate Interdisciplinary Specialization (GIS) in Wicked Science is to train students to become wicked scientists – researchers with the skills and attitudes to tackle wicked problems. This entails that students will be able to:

  1. Tackle wicked problems using a systems-thinking approach that seriously considers the roles, interests, and perspectives of stakeholders.
  2. Collaborate effectively with stakeholders and team members from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
  3. Communicate scientific research and ideas to diverse audiences and through different modalities.
  4. Meet ethical, collegial, and professional expectations and standards in collaborative research and other professional endeavors.
  5. Articulate a sense of purpose and develop competencies, skills, and habits that prepare them for life-long learning about and engaging with wicked problems.

The training program is open to all graduate and professional students from across the university. Graduate students in programs from Anthropology to Veterinary Medicine are researching grand challenges that can be studied as wicked problems, but none of these programs trains students in the skills that are necessary to work effectively in inclusive, transdisciplinary teams, which is necessary to tackle wicked problems. The GIS prepares students for a wide range of careers in and outside of academia.

Wicked science is neither wicked, nor just science. Or, in other words, it is not evil and it is not just for scientists. The program is open to students from across the university, including the arts and humanities.