DISCLAIMER: This article was originally posted on Odyssey.
For my Experiential Education requirement course, I had to take a course revolving around studying career paths, specifically from the Roadtrip Nation website and their book. The people behind it took a road-trip interviewing as many people as possible about their career paths, how they got to where they were, and what advice they have. What captivated me was the interview with film director Valerie Weiss, who produced films such as “The Light Beneath Their Feet” and “Losing Control.”
She is actually a scientist with a Ph.D. in Biological Chemistry and Molecular Pharmacology. How she was able to apply her STEM experience to her film career was by applying the Scientific Method to every scene she cast. They were all considered part of hypotheses and if they failed to produce her desired results, they were revised.
Ever since I graduated with a B.A. in English, I wanted to challenge myself to explore an academic field that is not liberal arts related. Since I am a graduate student, I am given more independence beyond just a single course. More specifically I was just as interested in astronomy or biology alongside my liberal arts interests. I was hoping that by juxtaposing those fields into a unique educational path, I would brace for a job market where there is a lot of competition. I did not want to be superior in any way, rather I wanted to establish my own niche in an ever-changing world.
This would involve learning about two to three academic fields in order to provide a variety of answers to a single problem. What happens in interdisciplinary studies is that the student leads the faculty, despite it usually being the case that it is the other way around. What interdisciplinary studies show is that the student genuinely cares about the material being taught and is willing to shape his/her educational experience around his/her own academic interests. It is for this reason that Debra Humphreys, the vice president of policy and public engagement at the Association of American Colleges and Universities, knows that employers look for self-direction as one of their most desirable skills.
To summarize interdisciplinary studies, Anne Feldman, who wrote the article “Why We Need To Put The Arts Into STEM Education,” concludes that:
“STEAM is people-centric, not subject-centric.”
If such an unusual academic field requires the self-direction of its students, then it would most definitely be the case that people-centric education may be an undervalued component, especially since the person pursuing this field would be driven to inquire further about his/her own field until it leads to other fields.
Graduated students with Interdisciplinary Studies degrees are also important in the workforce since they understand multiple perspectives. This results in more flexibly minded innovation, which would, therefore, result in productivity. Creativity is itself a state of mind that enables flexibility. It can focus on creating overlooked career paths, such as medical illustrators for science magazines. The mixture of Indigenous Studies and Programming would result in an app created by a Canadian programmer to detail the lands in the Americas and Australia as divisions of the tribes before colonization. This could lead the way to actually address any legal issues that may arise between an indigenous reservation and the local government. This complex view of the world was also used by famous brilliant people such as Leonardo da Vinci, who studied mathematics, engineering, and art.
It also creates an overlapping path that can incorporate both liberal arts and STEM, which can prevent entrenched controversies that can occur simply because the information, as well as the way it is presented, can be misunderstood by the other party. In the case of Dr. Myra Strober, a Stanford University professor, she personally witnessed a religious studies professor and an economist argue until the latter left the room. Allen Repko, the author of “Interdisciplinary Research: Process and Theory,” argued that interdisciplinary studies would also help the student confront his/her own biases and opinions. Interdisciplinary Studies is important in this way since it can unite people of different academic fields with the same objectives.
As such, this would enable unique problem-solving skills. In the case of Shama Rahman, who has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience of Musical Creativity, she put the concept of memory under question by engaging in an experiment which enabled the test subject to obtain false memories by listening to music in their sleep. This is what, as she concluded, was what makes the connection between dreams and memories as opposed to memories being a strictly chronological log. This is what enabled her to use this work to research dementia. Indeed, this is what would uncover broad breakthroughs in any field of study.
Exploring interdisciplinary fields is what would help all the decline in STEM job placements. They would make subjects such as math and science no longer appear boring and would actually provide meaning for students to explore their creative interests through the STEM field. There are schools in Pennsylvania that understand this, which is why 12 school districts will spend $530,000 on STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Math) programs. That budget will pay for a robotics lab, a motivation station, an outdoor discovery zone, and a virtual immersion lab. This is definitely what makes interdisciplinary studies a “smorgasbord of academic interests.”
It would definitely be worth it to be “not constrained by disciplinary borders” and having an “entrepreneurial spirit.” This field of study is one that is severely underestimated and one that employers are looking for. It can bring people together and solve complex problems. Rahman concluded her TED talk by asking anyone interested in pursuing interdisciplinary studies:
“What worlds do you connect and how?”
This is definitely a question I, as well as many other people, hope to answer.