I find it interesting that a discussion about Interdisciplinary Studies ultimately becomes a conversation about qualifications. It’s without fail that I will explain my approach to Marketing & Creative Services and will no sooner be asked what classes I’m taking, why I chose those particular classes, why didn’t I just major in marketing (wow, I’ve never thought of that before) and the dreaded,
“What do you plan on doing with that”.
Their initial curiosity transforms into speculation as they furrow their brow, unsure of my direction. No one questions the career intent of a biology major or a professional sales major, so why does a degree in interdisciplinary studies become a question of my future success?
There is an attitudinal barrier that separates how people perceive the quality of an education from a traditional, single discipline student, versus a non-traditional, interdisciplinary student. In the article, Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training, it elaborates on the belief that interdisciplinary work is less challenging and more high-risk with the idea that,”those who do collaborative work could not succeed in their own discipline; they would be lost in a team effort and ‘lose their professional identity'”. There are social and academic obstacles that come with studying in an interdisciplinary setting that undeniably set us apart from our peers, and this led me to wonder, how will our degree set us apart in the workplace?
Interdisciplinary Studies allows its students to create their own professional identity and brand themselves based on the disciplines within their program. Yet, even with a diverse background and comprehensive training in each of my fields, I’m worried that I won’t find my niche in the job market. I’m afraid of that dreaded, “you can’t sit with us” moment. Self-doubt and employment rates aside, it’s my fundamental belief that my major has allowed me to be more qualified than other candidates. In comparison to applicants who would all have a single marketing degree, my degree would encompass marketing, communications and visual studies, granting me additional skills outside of a single discipline and help expand my career opportunities far beyond a cubicle farm. Being versed in several disciplines isn’t the only benefit I can present to employers, simply being interdisciplinary teaches a student so much. My work ethic, problem solving and initiative are heightened, but the leadership skills I’ve gained have been a milestone in my professional and personal development. Barriers to Interdisciplinary Research and Training wrote,
“Interdisciplinary research teams need leaders who understand the challenges of group dynamics and who can establish and maintain an integrated program. Leaders need to have vision, creativity, and perseverance… to coordinate the efforts of a diverse team requires credibility as a research scientist, skill in modulating strong personalities, the ability to draw out individual strengths, and skill in the use of group dynamics to blend individual strengths into a team”.
It’s easy for me to be afraid of the challenges that may lie ahead when it comes to my career opportunities or personal success, but it’s easier to trust that Interdisciplinary Studies has prepared me for those challenges. So, the next time someone asks, “what do you plan on doing with that” it won’t be a question of qualifications but rather a chance where I can elaborate on all that I’m qualified for.