BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Now that the term "interdisciplinary" is
practically a prerequisite for federal research funds, geographers
are finding that their expertise is a sought-after commodity.
That's because geography just might be the most interdisciplinary
field in the academic world, according to Sharmistha Bagchi-Sen,
chair of the Department of Geography in the University at Buffalo's
College of Arts and Sciences.
"Geographers have traditionally read literature from a lot of
disciplines so we have a wide understanding of different fields,"
she says. "I think it has made us more resilient in
problem-solving; we tend to look at different perspectives in order
to come up with solutions."
That's becoming increasingly valuable, she says.
"If you look at what's being funded, any research question is
now so complicated that several disciplines are required to answer
it," she says. "More and more, geographers are being sought out to
collaborate on various problems."
The UB Department of Geography's historic emphasis on spatial
methodologies and geographic information systems has been
especially valuable on research applications in environmental,
medical, social and economic fields.
Bagchi-Sen has used spatial methodologies in her own research as
an urban-economic geographer. At the University of Georgia, where
she earned her doctorate, her dissertation was on "Spatial and
Temporal Models of Foreign Direct Investment in the United
Bagchi-Sen came to UB in 1993 from Michigan State University
because of the Department of Geography's international business and
world trade focus, still one of just a few geography departments in
the country that specialize in this area.
She has served as the department's director of graduate studies
and she co-directed the UB Institute for Research and Education on
Women and Gender.
In May 2009, she was a visiting scholar at the Institute of
Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Goteborg University in Goteborg,
Sweden. She spent 2006-07 as a fellow of the American Council on
Education in the Chancellor's Office of the University of
California-Los Angeles. She also was a fellow in the UB Faculty in
Leadership Program, designed to help bridge the gap between faculty
and the administration.
Bagchi-Sen has studied how foreign companies from India, for
example, have boosted their investment in the U.S., evolving from
manufacturers of generic drugs to companies with research and
development expertise through the acquisition of other firms. She
also has studied how biotech firms innovate and, she says, it is
very hard to define what makes them successful.
"Every state and every university tries to capture the
biomedical research that is going on and to see if it can do
translational research," she says. "But it's hard to measure
success. What are the indicators of success for knowledge-based
companies? How do you measure economic development effects of these
companies? Biotech companies may have revenue, but they may be at
very early stages of product development, which limits economic
development." According to Bagchi-Sen, more students are being
drawn to geography because it offers a wide variety of quantitative
and qualitative tools to address complicated questions.
That broad perspective comes from the nature of geography
itself, she says, noting that the discipline is categorized as both
a social and a physical science. While human geography --
Bagchi-Sen's focus -- examines urban, economic, social and
political geography, those who study physical geography focus on
earth systems science, water resources, hydrology, forest
transition, conservation and other environmental issues.
And while UB's Department of Geography is among the smaller ones
in the nation, with approximately 15 faculty members, Bagchi-Sen
notes that it has one of the nation's largest master's degree
programs in geography as well as a relatively large doctoral
program. In addition, she says, the job outlook for geographers is
"Even during this economic downtown, there are positions," she
says, "especially academic positions and those in applied
UB's geography faculty members represent numerous subfields,
nationalities and many are women. Out of a total of about 15,
including one joining the department next month, six were hired
since 2006, she notes. The department is highly productive in
research, she says.
"Geographers are entrepreneurial to begin with," she says, "and
nearly all of our faculty members currently have external research
But it's not just the discipline that fosters the collaborative
nature of UB's geographers, it's the institution, too, she says,
describing UB as "a very rich, intellectual environment.
"The great thing about UB is it doesn't have silos," she says.
"UB helps you seek out intellectual hot spots. That's often not the
case at other institutions."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.