A Breeding Pool of Ideas: Analyzing Interdisciplinary Collaborations at the Complex Systems Summer School


Interdisciplinary research is essential for the study of complex systems, and so there is a growing need to understand the factors that facilitate collaboration across diverse fields of inquiry. In this exploratory study, we examine the composition of self-organized project groups and the structure of collaboration networks at the Santa Fe Institute’s Complex Systems Summer School. Using data from all iterations of the summer school from 2005 to 2019, comprising 823 participants and 322 projects, we investigate the factors that contribute to group composition. We first test for homophily with respect to individual-level attributes, finding that group composition is largely consistent with random mixing based on gender, career position, institutional prestige, and country of study. However, we find some evidence of homophilic preference in group composition based on disciplinary background. We then conduct analyses at the level of group projects, finding that project topics from the Social and Behavioral Sciences are over-represented. This could be due to a higher level of baseline interest in, or knowledge of, social and behavioral sciences, or the common application of methods from the natural sciences to problems in the social sciences. Consequently, future research should explore this discrepancy further and examine whether it can be mitigated through policies aimed at making topics in other disciplines more accessible or appealing for collaboration.