The Rise of (and Need for) Interdisciplinary Degree Programs

By Trent University Modified on November 11, 2023
Tags : Academics | Health and Wellness | News

Discover why interdisciplinary degrees are essential in addressing today's societal issues.

 The Rise of (and Need for) Interdisciplinary Degree Programs

Interdisciplinary education — based on developing innovative and collaborative approaches to real-world problems — is essential to addressing today’s most pressing societal issues.

What are interdisciplinary degrees at Trent?

Universities have long offered students the flexibility to combine different areas of knowledge through minors, specializations, and joint or double majors. While these options allow for some cross-disciplinary exposure, they can lack the structured integration that characterizes modern interdisciplinary degree programs.

At Trent University, interdisciplinary degree programs are more than just an arrangement of elective courses. Our programs offer learning plans that purposefully draw courses from different departments, to teach students the value of diverse thinking — including indigenous ways of knowing — in resolving complex issues.

How our Climate Change Science & Policy degree is an interdisciplinary program

In addressing climate change, it’s not sufficient to think about technological advances or divestment from fossil fuels in isolation. Our Climate Change Science & Policy program couples a "hard science" understanding of climate change with the social, political, and technological aspects of climate policy.

Hands-on learning allows students to “learn by doing” and build skills through experiences, from measuring greenhouse gas concentrations using portable sensors to analyzing the policy-relevance of real-life climate data sets. This creates climate change specialists with next-level problem solving skills for the government, corporate, non-profit, and education sectors.

Why an interdisciplinary degree is so valuable

Why is interdisciplinary education so good at preparing future problem-solvers? Rather than studying solely on specific subjects, interdisciplinary students learn collaboratively and integrate diverse viewpoints.

True innovation happens when (through concerted effort and considerable funding) groups of people come together to solve problems. Interdisciplinary programs mirror this model, with students learning across disciplines, so they gain the holistic, or ‘big picture’ context that is critical to creating an evidence-based solution that can be approved, funded, and implemented in the real world.

Why it’s important for health programs to draw from different specialities

Even before the pandemic, medical schools valued inter-professional education (IPE), a learning model that brings together health professions from different specialities for case-based learning. Trent’s Health and Behaviour degree follows in these footsteps to help tackle a key social concern — improving the health of our communities.

It’s no longer sufficient for us as academics to simply identify problems (cardiovascular health is worsening, anxiety is increasing); nor is it enough to hope that our elected representatives or community groups will provide solutions — the solutions themselves are simply too complex. As researchers and subject matter experts, today’s graduates and tomorrow’s future leaders must understand the science, the social factors, the political realities, and the institutional structures underpinning health problems to effect change.

Students entering higher education today want to make an impact. They want a meaningful career; they are deeply aware of social problems — and they are eager to take action. Interdisciplinary education offers a path to making that contribution.

My advice to students: Start with the issue you are passionate about and find a program that will develop your talents in a way that prepares you to make a difference. Impassioned, skilled, analytical thinkers are what today’s employers want (and need).

Dr. Michael Khan is the Provost and Vice President Academic at Trent University.

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