About ISGP

PURPOSES AND OBJECTIVES

The main purpose of the ISGP is to enable qualified graduate students to pursue advanced interdisciplinary research exceeding the provisions of existing departmental programs. There are no restrictions regarding the topic and in many cases the student draws upon expertise from several distinct faculties. ISGP is designed only for a highly motivated and superb student who can steer an independent course. It facilitates neither avoidance of academic/administrative requirements in extant graduate programs nor operates to recruit outstanding candidates in pursuit of a particular definition of interdisciplinarity.

The Interdisciplinary Studies Graduate Program at the University of British Columbia was established in 1971, the first of its kind in Canada. It is one of the only Canadian programs to offer doctoral degrees in interdisciplinary studies, and is possibly one of the largest of its kind in North America. That said, almost every university hosts and fosters interdisciplinarity so that something comparable can be found across the map. Indeed research centres and/or graduate programs in such fields as genetics, women’s studies, applied ethics, health and society, cultural studies, etc. are commonplace. Moreover most if not all academic researchers are interdisciplinary to one degree or another. This is no more or less true for someone in engineering, information studies, or mathematics, as it is for a scholar in sociology or philosophy. But few universities explicitly recognize the kind of unbounded interdisciplinarity that is offered by ISGP, whereby a student can bring together three seemingly unrelated fields from across disparate faculties. They might, for example, combine law, medicine and anthropology, or music, psychology, and electrical engineering. In principle, there are no restrictions on the combination, provided the research project is well motivated and grounded in a sufficient training in each subject.

The program in its early stages was motivated by two desiderata: to allow and facilitate the creation of new subfields, and to serve those students who wished to combine one or more existing disciplines in their advanced research efforts. There was a time, fifty or so years ago, when such a program might have been needed to pursue biochemistry, astrophysics, or comparative literature.

More recently, the program has helped spawn many separate programs, such as Women’s Studies, European Studies, and First Nations Studies. As students continue to find hitherto unoccupied interstices on the frontier of knowledge, there is the potential that these too will one day become recognized programs, research centres, or even separate departments. At its boldest and broadest reach, ISGP serves to bridge the two cultures of science and art, or more precisely, the four cultures of the physical sciences, life sciences, social sciences and humanities. Students must thus be highly motivated, to take their research beyond recognized boundaries, or cultivate new methods and techniques. One of the hardest tasks that they face is not the actual combination of subjects per se but the professional barriers that separate disciplines erect. They must in effect learn to be ambassadors, to learn new languages, both to learn from each community, and to carry their message abroad. To be interdisciplinary, students must first know several disciplines on their own terms, and then find the ways and means to establish links and validate new discoveries.

THE INTERDISCIPLINARY STUDIES GRADUATE PROGRAM

In the Program as it now exists, the prospective student has to bring together three or four qualified faculty from different departments or units. Because there are no constraints on which fields are brought together, there are virtually no two students in the same sub-field.

Students must also have a home department, which in principle gives them full citizenry in terms of access to financial and physical resources (if these are available in their designated Home Department). Students are also strongly advised to be strategic about their post-doctoral placement, since most must find a job in an existing more traditional field.

REQUIREMENTS AND PROCEDURES

ISGP is suited only for students who are highly motivated, able to work independently, and have already demonstrated a command of two or more subjects with first class standing. Moreover, they must identify and articulate their specific line of study, speaking to the received views they intend to challenge. A potential applicant is strongly encouraged to contact the Chair in her/his preliminary stages, and to consider an on site visit if at all possible. At the first interview s/he is invited to explain their reasons for applying to the ISGP and to motivate the interdisciplinarity of their project with regard to intellectual content and course work. At this stage candidates are challenged by discussion of alternative departmental offerings as an additional process of self selection and academic monitoring.

If encouraged to apply, the potential applicant to the ISGP devises a sufficiently persuasive research topic and associated campaign of study to garner the support of two qualified faculty members to act as Co-supervisors. One of the Co-supervisors will be from the home department designated by the student, who in turn must obtain the Head’s written support. These two Co-supervisors oversee the first two terms of course work, at which point the student forms their supervisory committee of 3-4 professors. The Chair of the Committee must be at UBC and at the rank of Associate or Full Professor. The Program is also disposed to accept the participation, of appropriately qualified faculty from other universities (preferably in the Pacific Northwest), but the majority (or 50%) of members on the Committee must be at UBC.

The applicant composes a two-page written statement of their proposed research (plus a one-page bibliography) and a one-page outline of their proposed course work. They are advised to develop this in consultation with the ISGP Chair.

There is only one round of evaluation by the Advisory committee, in February, for admission the following September. However, once admitted, a student may choose to defer entry until the following January or September.

COMMUNITY

Our students’ community and connection to other interdisciplinary units at UBC is much more than the mere dissemination of ideas and research. It is as much to cultivate an ethics for interdisciplinary research, above all, to foster and sustain respect for other pursuits. To belong to ISGP is to belong to a special community of persons who are open to the potential if not actual value of most if not every intellectual line of research. This is not a place for empire-builders or elitists, but for true global citizens of the intellectual world. For interdisciplinary research to flourish, existing hierarchical structures in the academic world must be challenged if not dismantled. ISGP students as a group thus bring a unique and rejuvenating presence to the UBC graduate community, and thus give almost as much to the university as they take with them upon graduation.