The Association for Interdisciplinary Studies has long recognized the importance of providing surveys of interdisciplinary programs. In 1986, the AIS published Interdisciplinary Undergraduate Programs: A Directory. The second edition, edited by Alan F. Edwards, Jr, and published in 1996 by Copley Publishers, is still available. We now take advantage of the world-wide web to provide a survey of interdisciplinary PhD programs in the Liberal Arts in the United States. Whereas our previous undergraduate Directories provided brief descriptions of programs, in this Directory we provide links to the websites of all listed programs.
The Association for Interdisciplinary Studies hopes that this Directory will aid prospective PhD students who desire an interdisciplinary education. We also hope that the Directory will be useful to scholars and administrators who wish to know if and where certain sorts of interdisciplinary program exist.
The Association for Interdisciplinary Studies as an organization embraces the study and practice of interdisciplinarity in all of its forms. We had originally envisioned a Directory of all interdisciplinary programs. We limit ourselves, at least in this first effort, to the Liberal Arts, primarily because virtually all professional programs possess interdisciplinary elements. We will explore ways of identifying “self-consciously interdisciplinary” professional programs in the future. We also hope to extend the geographical scope of this Directory and investigate whether certain types of Masters Degree programs can be included.
While we have striven for completeness, there will necessarily be some omissions in the list that follows; students are urged to consult websites of universities they would particularly wish to attend. In some cases, such as religious studies, applied ethics, and linguistics, it was particularly difficult to distinguish disciplinary from interdisciplinary programs.
The Directory can be explored in terms of type of interdisciplinary program, by clicking on one of the categories listed below. It is important to recognize that programs that fall within a narrowly defined category will usually not also be listed under the more general category. For example “Area Studies” programs are not also listed under the general “Social Sciences/Humanities” category.
We strongly encourage you to review the scope and criteria sections before using the directory. They provide important information on what types of program are included – or not included – in the Directory.
The Association for Interdisciplinary Studies as an organization embraces the study and practice of interdisciplinarity in all of its forms. We had originally envisioned a directory of all interdisciplinary programs. However, we have decided that, at least in our first effort, we will limit ourselves to interdisciplinary programs housed within Colleges of Arts and/or Sciences (or Colleges or Schools that cover all or part of the Liberal Arts). The primary reason for this is that professional programs, focused as they are on practical applications of theoretical knowledge, almost inevitably have interdisciplinary components. As Lisa Lattuca says (Creating interdisciplinarity : interdisciplinary research and teaching among college and university faculty, 2001, 60) “graduate study in professional fields is often geared to solving real world problems and is typically multidisciplinary, requiring individuals to complete courses taught from a variety of disciplinary perspectives.” Since directories of professional programs already exist, we would provide unnecessary duplication if we listed all of these here. We do, though, think that there may be scope for identifying “self-consciously interdisciplinary” professional programs: those that make a particular effort to integrate different disciplinary perspectives; we invite suggestions on how we might proceed, and programs we might include, in such a directory.
We have also decided to focus in the first instance on the United States. We anticipate adding entries for Canadian programs in the very near future, and hope thereafter to survey other countries. We will also explore the possibility of adding certain types of Masters degree programs to our Directory.
What, though of (semi-) professional programs housed – or that could be housed – within Colleges of Arts and Science? We have included these here; they receive a designation of “Applied” in our classification system. While we have striven for consistency, it is likely that in some cases a program that is offered in a professional school is excluded even though the same program in an Arts or Science college would be included.
We have excluded all agricultural programs (including food science), for these are predominantly professional in nature. We have included Materials Science (and related fields such as ceramics) for this is often offered in Colleges of Science. We have also included Exercise Science, even though generally offered in Colleges of Physical Education.
Salter and Hearn (Outside the Lines: Issues in Interdisciplinary Research; 1996) distinguish “instrumental” interdisciplinarity, which focuses on particular problems, issues, or themes, from “conceptual” interdisciplinarity, which inquires into the nature of and queries the advisability of disciplinary structures. While much research is undertaken in conceptual interdisciplinarity, almost all of the PhD programs that we found were “instrumental”. The two main exemplars of a “conceptual” approach are the “History of Consciousness” program at the University of California, Santa Cruz and the “Social Thought” program at the University of Chicago. Research of a conceptual nature is undoubtedly possible in other programs, especially some of those that embrace philosophy, sociology, or history, or those that allow students to suggest their own program.
Bill Newell has recently noted that interdisciplinarity can involve the integration not only of disciplines but of academic coursework with student services, residential life, and work experiences. A few of our PhD programs make explicit reference to some sort of work or life component; these programs are likely to be very integrative.
We have sought evidence of integration. That is, it is not enough that a program draws on more than one discipline; there must be a conscious effort to integrate disciplinary perspectives. It is, however, necessary that a program draw significantly upon more than one discipline: we have not included programs that integrate insights from sub-disciplines within the same discipline, though we appreciate that these are often truly integrative. By ‘significantly’ we mean programs that do more than just allow electives in diverse fields, but actually encompass more than one discipline within core coursework. We have judged the degree of integration from program websites, which are imperfect representations of a program’s nature: we advise prospective students to seek programs that do more than simply require courses from different disciplines, but make an effort to integrate these perspectives.
This directory was developed by first compiling a list of all graduate programs and then removing those that were either clearly disciplinary or professional [see Scope of this Directory] in nature or insufficiently integrative. We have included in the directory most programs that mention more than one discipline in their title: the main exceptions to this rule of thumb occur in areas such as ‘social psychology’ which are generally taught within one discipline, or ‘biochemistry’ which is now generally recognized as a discipline or sub-discipline in its own right. Programs jointly administered by departments representing different disciplines were almost always included, as were programs administered by departments of a genuinely interdisciplinary nature. We have also looked closely at all ‘Applied’ degree programs, and included all that clearly applied insights from one discipline to the subject matter of another.
We have not included interdisciplinary specializations available within disciplinary degree programs. Most PhD programs allow students some scope for choosing elective courses outside of their core discipline. We have included a few interdisciplinary programs that can only be pursued in conjunction with a disciplinary PhD, where the degree of interdisciplinarity is great; we have made note of this restriction where applicable.
Having defined interdisciplinarity in terms of disciplines, we must then have a list of disciplines in mind. Since disciplinary/departmental structures evolve through time, there is no simple means of deciding what qualifies as a discipline at any point in time. We have, as noted above, treated biochemistry as a (sub-)discipline. We have treated Urban Studies in the same way. In the case of other programs, such as those in communications, Women’s Studies, ethnic studies, and area studies, we have evaluated individual programs on a case-by-case basis.
A final criterion for inclusion deserves mention: the program must possess a website which could be readily accessed and in which the previous criteria could be assessed without excessive effort on the part of the Directory’s compiler. In a few cases, it proved difficult or impossible to access the necessary information.
Individuals aware of a program that meets the criteria but is not included in the Directory are asked to contact AIS at firstname.lastname@example.org . We have learned of several valuable programs in this way since the Directory was first developed.
This directory was compiled by AIS Board President Rick Szostak, Professor of Economics at the University of Alberta. He was ably assisted by a committee of the AIS Board that included President Carolyn Haynes and Executive Director Bill Newell, both of Miami University of Ohio, Past President Joan Fiscella of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and Board member (and website expert) Sharon Cogdill of St. Cloud State. The committee thanks Rita Fisher, formerly of St. Cloud State, for great research assistance.
In 2005, Terri Patton, secretary of the Interdisciplinary Studies Program at Wayne State University, and others at WSU, on the advice of Stuart Henry, then Chair of the ISP, checked the links and replaced those that were no longer active. This important work was continued by Phyllis Cox, previous Office Manager of AIS.
Materials Science (includes Ceramics and Wood; see also Polymer Science)
Polymer Science (see also Textile Studies)
This directory was compiled and the supplementary text written by Dr. Rick Szostak of the University of Alberta. If you have questions or would like to have your program considered for inclusion in the AIS Directory of Interdisciplinary Doctoral programs, please contact AIS at email@example.com.
For even more helpful information, visit the “Ph.D. Resources” website put together by the University of Washington and the Pew Charitable Trust. This is a survival guide to doctoral graduate study which includes tips on selecting an advisor and committee, preparing for qualifying exams, publishing and writing the dissertation.