About ISGP


At the ISGP, we strive for diversity in academic excellence, disciplinary foci and student backgrounds, and we share our vision with UBC’s commitment on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, as well as UBC’s Strategic Plan, particularly Strategy 4: Inclusive Excellence and Strategy 14: Interdisciplinary Education . As an interdisciplinary academic unit, our goal is to balance the representations of intellectual backgrounds and disciplines within our student body/population.

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.


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 are also strongly advised to be strategic about their post-doctoral placement, since most must find a job in an existing more traditional field.


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 submit a Statement of Proposed Research Topic (SPRT) Form in her/his preliminary stages, where s/he explains their reasons for applying to the ISGP and 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. 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-and-a-half page Statement of Proposed Research Topic (plus a bibliography) and a one-page outline of their proposed course work. They are advised to develop this in consultation with their potential Co-Supervisors.

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.


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.


Given the momentum that has built around the ISGP program and the idea of fostering collaboration at UBC, the timing is right to take advantage of the potential of ISGP to improve its quality and reputation as well as possibly contribute to UBC’s vision about fostering interdisciplinary teaching and collaborative research. The new UBC Strategic Plan articulates four core areas of activity, which perfectly align with ISGP’s vision: People and Places, Research Excellence, Transformative Learning and Local and Global Engagement. Under these core areas are specific strategies. We envision the ISGP to possibly help with the following seven key strategies: Strategy 1: Great people, Strategy 2: Inspiring spaces, Strategy 5: Systems renewal, Strategy 6: Collaborative clusters, Strategy 9: Knowledge exchange, Strategy 13: Practical learning, and Strategy 14: Interdisciplinary education. Given that UBC is now an active proponent of interdiscplinary teaching and collaborative research, ISGP could be positioned as a flagship program for this interdisciplinary UBC-wide strategy. For more information on the ISGP’s strategic plan, please see our Strategic Plan Executive Summary.


On April 21st. 2011. Dr. Amartya Sen visited UBC for the celebration of ISGP’s 40th Anniversary as a program. Dr. Sen delivered a lecture on Interdisciplinarity as the keynote speaker in ISGP’s 40th Anniversary lecture series and received an honorary degree from the University.


In 2021, the ISGP commemorated its 50th anniversary with an hour-long documentary video with faculty from various academic disciplines, featuring UBC President Santa Ono and Dean of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies Dean Susan Porter, discussing the relevance and importance of academic interdisciplinary studies.

The video is available for you to view on Youtube through this link: https://youtu.be/cW1Tvh0APhw. We hope you enjoy it!