Becoming an Interdisciplinarian Skills and Values*

Interdisciplinarity is a creative process of leveraging multiple perspectives to address complex issues in new and innovative ways.

Interdisciplinary studies programs typically require a high degree of self-motivation and self-direction as students in these programs often design their own degree program based on their interests and objectives. Interdisciplinary studies degrees can involve the combination of seemingly disparate subject areas. What holds these together? The student.

Interdisciplinary Studies fosters the following key skills*:

  • Perspective Taking
  • Critical Thinking
  • Intellectual Dexterity
  • Integration

Developing capacity in these key areas requires these foundational values*:

  • Empathy
  • Ethical Consciousness
  • Humility

Perspective Taking

Interdisciplinary studies requires sampling perspectives from an array of sources both academic and non in the course of addressing complex problems.

Developing capacity in regards to perspective taking requires interdisciplinarians to learn to identify and resist confirmation biases. In other words, they must practice including sometimes opposing or contradictory perspectives, particularly when they are inclined to endorse one particular view.

Along with building capacity to seek out and include multiple perspectives, interdisciplinarians must become adept at evaluating sources. Beyond familiarity with specific areas of knowledge and their affiliated knowledge repositories, interdisciplinarians must develop a critical approach to adjudicating content--thoughts, ideas, concepts, methods, and sources.

Critical Thinking

Interdisciplinarians must develop the capacity to analyze, critique, and assess ideas and insights from an array of sources.

Building capacity as a critical thinker requires being open to new ideas and insights.

Interdisciplinarians draw on various perspectives and unpack assumptions embedded in our everyday approach to the world. In this context, it is insufficient to ask: "Why is 'normal' not working?" The more significant question is: "Why is 'normal' normal in the first place?"

Intellectual Dexterity

Interdisciplinarians must develop the ability to address a broad spectrum of knowledge and experience. An important aspect of this skill is the ability to hold multiple perspectives, perhaps even contradictory ones, in view at any given time.

Integration

Interdisciplinarians must bring together multiple perspectives, insights, and experiences to produce something new an innovative. What is produced may be a more comprehensive understanding of an issue or it may be a new and innovative solution to a complex problem.

These skills rely on embracing the value of empathy, being able to understand another's perspective without necessarily endorsing it.

These skills also rely on embracing the value of ethical awareness, or understanding the impact of one's own attitudes and actions on another.

Humility is another value for cultivating interdisciplinary skills. Understanding that one does not have all the answers, or that others may know more or better, keeps one open to new ideas and insights.

*This overview is derived from Repko AF, Szostak R, Buchberger MP. Introduction to interdisciplinary studies. Sage Publications; 2016.

Credits:

Created with images by Ed Bierman - "Etya, Sonia Gechtoff, 1958" • Radoslav Minchev - "Creative Playground" • smswigart - "fighting with the legends of yore" • JonGenius - "Hand Stand" • marker_photography - "smoothie drink kiwi spinach"

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