Issues in Interdisciplinary Studies Volume 29 (2011)

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    'A Jack of All Trades and a Master of Some of Them': Successful Students in Interdisciplinary PhD Programs
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen
    Interdisciplinarity has become a growing emphasis in U.S. higher education, and the prevalence of interdisciplinary doctoral programs is one indicator of such growth. Despite this growth, the experiences of individuals within interdisciplinary doctoral programs have been largely unexamined in the literature. This paper examines a self-designed interdisciplinary doctoral program for the two-fold purpose of better understanding students' experiences and faculty members' conceptualizations of what constitutes student "success." Using the lens of socialization, findings uncovered issues related to a lack of program structure and support for those involved. Findings from the study demonstrate a need for a higher level of self-direction for these students given the increased ambiguity of the program's structure as well as the need for external support given the lack of community.
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    The Emergence of Interdisciplinarity From Epistemological Thought
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen
    Interdisciplinary studies has positioned itself as an innovative approach to comprehending, navigating, and transforming knowledge. The emphasis in recent scholarship upon complex systems and integration of insights from disciplinary perspectives mark decisive progress toward the development of a cohesive theory of interdisciplinarity. Such a theory would entail establishing an epistemology of complexity through epistemological negotiation. I argue that the interdisciplinary approach to knowledge is a logical evolution of the history of Western thought and an innovative answer to the epistemological project. This project was surveyed in Welch (2009) who described how the Western canonical lineage from Plato to Hegel developed epistemological strategies founded on the principles of duality, determinism, and absolute truth. The present essay carries that historical examination forward by examining the way these strategies were problematized by the more recent approaches to epistemology taken by phenomenology, post-structuralism, pluralism, and pragmatism. These schools of thought are pertinent to understanding the contrasting origins and outlooks of the critical and instrumental modes of interdisciplinarity. This essay concludes that these epistemological schools of thought are not mutually exclusive; they entwine inextricably together into interdisciplinary theory and practice. Indeed, their synthetic relationship is essential for developing interdisciplinary theory as an emergent epistemological innovation. The deep historical context provided here grounds interdisciplinary theory, and gives it a voice in ongoing debates over knowledge itself.
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    Interdisciplinary Methods in Water Resources
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen
    In the face of a myriad of complex water resource issues, traditional disciplinary separation is ineffective in developing approaches to promote a sustainable water future. As part of a new graduate program in water resources, faculty at the University of Idaho have developed a course on interdisciplinary methods designed to prepare students for team-based interdisciplinary research. The course introduces the steps required for interdisciplinary research outlined by scholars of interdisciplinary research, but focuses on the key step of integration. Over four years of course development, faculty found that the initial barriers to effective integration are differences in language, methodology, values, and goals across disciplines, and misperceptions about those factors in other disciplines. Thus, initial class discussions focus on the methods and problems encountered with communicating and integrating across disciplines. Students then learn to use simplified versions of tools for integration, requiring them to first develop a conceptual understanding of linkages between disciplines, then to explore those linkages. The introduction to tools for integration is achieved through three projects that span physical, biological and behavioral sciences, political science, and law. Students on interdisciplinary teams are tasked with being the expert/teacher in their discipline, but must achieve sufficient understanding of the other disciplinaes reflected in the problem to understand and articulate their relation to the problem and how integration with their primary discipline alters the process or outcome. From this initial preparation students in the water resources program are better prepared to go on to effective interdisciplinary research.
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    Something Essential about Interdisciplinary Thinking
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen
    The integrative thinking essential to interdisciplinary inquiry requires not only critical reflection concerning the points of convergence and dissonance between disciplinary insights, but also something more personal and less predictable that this paper describes as "holding in relationship different ways of knowing." Using the process of teaching a poem by Robert Hass as illustration and metaphor, this paper models its subject. Interdisciplinary "truth," the paper asserts, is phenomenological in nature, always partial and provisional, emergent as opposed to fixed. The paper gives readers an experience of a dialectical and nonlinear learning process, tolerance for confusion in the midst of complexity, and tolerance for the inherent challenges of holding different ways of knowing simultaneously in one's mind, all of which are essential characteristics of interdisciplinary thought. Both a celebration of interdisciplinarity and skeptical of intimations for exclusivity, the paper makes the case that the essential qualities of interdisciplinary thought are characteristics of creative thinking in many disciplines.
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    Co-Teaching Social Research Methods in a Joint Sociology/Anthropology Department
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen
    In the course of developing and co-teaching Social Research Methods (SRM), an interdisciplinary, upper-division undergraduate course at the University of Illinois at Springfield (UIS), the authors discovered that this type of partnership is ripe ground for exploring integration of anthropology and sociology on epistemological and methodological levels. Their attempt to make disciplinarity and the process of interdisciplinary integration transparent to students has transformed the course, student experience in the joint major, departmental goals, and the authors' own scholarship. This paper describes challenges in the development of the course and provides disciplinary "toolkits” from sociology and anthropology, which are illustrated through a semester-long, hands-on project involving a campus racial climate survey.
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    Editors' Introduction
    (Association for Interdisciplinary Studies, 2011) Szostak, Rick; Repko, Allen