Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Curricula

Many of the world’s most pressing challenges, including social sustainability and resilience, ecosystem management and preservation and energy management no longer fit neatly into the subspecialized areas of inquiry that have typified graduate studies in the modern era. The subcommittee recommends the university build on existing strong disciplinary programs to develop and support appropriate interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary curricula that prepare students to work in team-based environments addressing these vital concerns.  For example, as research solutions move forward and continue to include more open-source arenas, we should develop and showcase our multidisciplinary research strengths in ways that allow us to leverage our success within the collaborative network of academe, as Jay Bradner suggests in this short clip on “Open-Source Cancer Research”:

This initiative builds upon a strength and brand in interdisciplinary graduate education that Virginia Tech has already begun to develop as reflected in emergent curricula and programs, the university’s success in obtaining NSF IGERT awards and the newly implemented Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program. These efforts all seek to equip students with metacognitive-level reasoning and analytical thinking skills and incorporate career development as a central aspiration. That is, they seek to ensure that graduate students obtain not only the relevant knowledge and expertise to work in interdisciplinary environments, but also the communication skills (including pedagogical capacities) necessary for success within them.

This is a challenging goal and one that involves a sea change in university policies and procedures that otherwise will continue to provide incentives to faculty and their academic programs to remain in separate disciplinary silos. The subcommittee envisions a university-wide community of learning characterized by a seamless continuum of student development at the undergraduate, graduate and postdoctoral levels. We recommend that due attention be paid to ensuring that graduate students and postdoctoral fellows receive opportunities to develop the necessary intellectual, affective and communication capacities to work in today’s collaborative and interdisciplinary environments. We also suggest that faculty roles and expectations be developed in ways that provide ongoing incentives and opportunities for the university’s professors to develop the necessary capabilities to work and mentor within such contexts. The university must assume responsibility for recruiting a strong, interdisciplinary faculty and also for providing the professoriate with incentives to adopt new ways of thinking and organizing that will offer students apposite curricula and educational experience to excel in the complex environments in which they will function.

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