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Science with society: Challenges of early-stage researchers engaging with transdisciplinary research in sustainability science

Thapa, Kaustubh; Vermeulen, Walter J.V.; Deutz, Pauline


Kaustubh Thapa

Walter J.V. Vermeulen


The ongoing social and ecological crises create urgency in academia and elsewhere to devise actionable problem-solving knowledge to tackle sustainability challenges. Transdisciplinary research (TDR) represents a problem-solving methodology for sustainability problems. TDR requires researchers to get out in the real world and engage with other societal actors to jointly produce such problem-solving knowledge for research to have a societal impact. This radical process of doing “science with society” instead of “science for society” is becoming more urgent and relevant. However, a transdisciplinary (TD) researcher faces challenges: often, institutions have limited readiness for facilitating TDR, a researcher has to juggle the roles of an academic and changemaker simultaneously and needs new ways of doing science. The research process requires enough manoeuvring space to incorporate reflexivity, adaptiveness, and emergence based on the research context. The research uses case studies, interviews, reflections, and document analysis from two finished and one ongoing TDR PhDs in sustainability science and connects them with the TD literature. Based on previous and ongoing TDR by early-stage researchers (ESRs), this article identifies and discusses six TDR challenges ESRs in sustainability sciences might face.


Thapa, K., Vermeulen, W. J., & Deutz, P. (2022). Science with society: Challenges of early-stage researchers engaging with transdisciplinary research in sustainability science. Sustainable Development,

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 29, 2022
Online Publication Date Apr 28, 2022
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Jul 1, 2022
Publicly Available Date Jul 1, 2022
Journal Sustainable Development
Print ISSN 0968-0802
Electronic ISSN 1099-1719
Publisher Wiley
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Early-stage researcher; Higher education; Sustainability science; Transdisciplinary PhD; Transdisciplinary research
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Copyright Statement
© 2022 The Authors. Sustainable Development published by ERP Environment and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

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