Interdisciplinary Studies Major

The Interdisciplinary Studies Major is a key part of the College of Arts & Science’s strategy to enhance undergraduate research and to support interdisciplinary approaches to complex problems.  The College has awarded a degree in Interdisciplinary Studies (AB-IDST) for the last several decades.  Students in the Major design their own academic programs around big research questions, guided by two College faculty mentors and a dean, who leads the program. 

Margaret Neely (C'23)

“…with this program I had the agency to create not only my own course path, but also the individual courses themselves with my advisors.”

Read Margaret Neely’s (C‘23) Reflections

Interdisciplinary Studies Majors integrate methods and ways of knowing from distinct disciplines in order to approach meaningful and insistent questions.  Majors develop their plan and approach to their research with the guidance of their advisors.  The thesis project may be a traditional written thesis or may be an experimental or creative project (with the approval of support of the faculty advisors and the Program Director).

The Interdisciplinary Studies (IDST) major is typically developed during the sophomore year with the guidance of faculty from the integrated disciplines.  College sophomores in good academic standing may apply.  The program presupposes that most of the student’s core requirements will have been fulfilled prior to beginning the Major.

“…the interdisciplinary program allowed me to explore the intersections of the academic fields that I was most passionate about: criminal justice reform and psychology.”

Read Tessa Gulley’s (C’22) Reflections

Successful IDST Majors must be self-motivated and independent, able to ask, pursue, and reframe questions across courses.  IDST Majors must take responsibility for designing their own major in collaboration with two faculty advisors and the IDST Major Dean (Dr. Bernie Cook).

A viable proposal for an IDST major must span two or more departments or programs in the College.  A full-time faculty member from each of the departments or programs must commit to serving as a major advisor and thesis reader (with the approval of the appropriate Department Chair or Program Director). The applicant should select a balance of coursework from each discipline in order to pursue their research questions. Students may propose to build an IDST major from an approved interdisciplinary program offering a free-standing Minor with the support of appropriate faculty.

“IDST gave me confidence that I can achieve whatever I set my mind to, even if that thing doesn’t exist yet.”

Read Chelsea Hafer’s (C‘22) Reflections

The proposal will include a 1-2 page introduction to the proposed topic that justifies the major and outlines the research questions that guide the course of study. In consultation with faculty advisors, the student should identify 12–14 courses from College departments or programs that deliver breadth and depth in the disciplines to be explored. The curriculum should include up to 4 introductory courses, up to 4 intermediate courses, and a minimum of 4 upper-level courses  Each IDST Major must complete at least one capstone course or senior seminar (this may be a tutorial course taken with a faculty advisor). The Major is understood to involve 4 semesters in residence on the main campus (IDST Majors may not graduate early after 3 semesters). IDST Majors must receive endorsement from their faculty advisors and approval from the Program Director in order to study abroad as part of the Major. At the end of each semester, IDST Majors will produce reflective summaries of their learning across their classes. In the fall of senior year, IDST Majors will produce a statement of integration, an updated and expanded annotated bibliography, and a thesis rationale. IDST Majors must produce a senior thesis project that explores the key questions and integrates their curriculum.

IDST Senior Thesis Presentations, 2023

(Learn more information about the Presenters and their Presentations)

IDST Senior Thesis Presentations, 2022

IDST Major Information

Applications for the IDST major should be made in the spring of the sophomore year to the College Dean’s office. Students must convey preliminary interest to Dean Bernie Cook, IDST Major Program Director, by February 1 of their sophomore year. Final proposals are due by March 1. Interested students should submit their Major Proposal via the online form and ask their Faculty Advisors to complete The IDST Major Faculty Advisor Form (one form per advisor).

The Interdisciplinary Thesis Research course focuses on the formation of interdisciplinary research questions, the integration of fields of knowledge, and the development of a thesis rationale. The course complements the research work guided by each senior’s disciplinary faculty mentors. This 1-credit course will provide a cohort experience for the seniors in the IDST major, offering opportunities to share and compare questions and approaches and to workshop the development of their thesis questions with feedback from their peers and the instructor. The course will provide the senior majors with opportunities to compare and assess how fields of knowledge approach answering insistent questions by thinking across questions and disciplinary combinations. 

The course will meet on a bi-weekly basis to allow time for the seniors to meet with their faculty advisors in alternating weeks. The course will require four assignments: 

● A revised literature review (with annotations) 

● A statement of integration 

● A thesis rationale 

● An intellectual autobiography 

The statement of integration will explore how the students have connected the ideas, approaches, and questions from two fields of knowledge. Students will reflect on connections between coursework, readings, conversations with faculty mentors, and research work. In the thesis rationale, students will reformulate their research questions (originally proposed in the application to the major), articulate refined questions, and indicate plans for pursuing the thesis over the senior year. The rationale will indicate the methods each student plans to use and will describe the final form of the thesis itself. In the intellectual autobiography, the seniors will reflect upon and explore their own learning and thinking processes by considering important events and experiences that have shaped their intellectual formation. 

Course readings will be drawn from Allen Repko (et al), Introduction to Interdisciplinary Studies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publishing, 2017) and Maya Lin, Boundaries (New York: Simon & Shuster, 2006).