Queen's University

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Academic Plan

Disciplinarity and Interdisciplinarity

Recognizing both that most students attend university to learn about specific fields of knowledge, and that no area of knowledge operates in a vacuum, we believe that the student learning experience should have a strong disciplinary focus as well as significant interdisciplinary encounters.

“Disciplinarity” refers to expertise in a discipline, including the understanding of methodology and the capacity to obtain, analyze, and employ specialized knowledge. Most students should gain disciplinarity, in this sense, within their selected programs or concentrations.

While useful distinctions have been made between multi-, cross-, trans-, and interdisciplinary approaches, we use "interdisciplinarity” loosely here to include all of these. “Interdisciplinarity” designates an experience of investigating an issue or problem that relies on contributions from several disciplines, and that may be taught or mentored in a collaborative manner. We have heard some concerns that placing greater emphasis on interdisciplinarity may be at the cost of disciplinary resources, time, or programs. In our understanding, interdisciplinarity supposes and depends upon disciplinarity, and we have no intention of recommending a “watering down” of specialized knowledge. But we suggest that students benefit from wider educational experiences and that an interdisciplinary experience can both contextualize and enrich the disciplinary.

Like Fundamental Academic Skills, disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity are foundational for successful careers and global citizenship. Since not all problems can be solved by discrete disciplines, students must learn to combine and coordinate diverse approaches, methods, and perspectives. Business organizations don’t survive unless Sales, Marketing, Operations, Research and Development, Finance, and Human Resources all work together. Hospitals cannot function without the interaction of countless medical, psychological, legal, financial, and administrative disciplines. And so on. Queen’s graduates will serve their society best if their disciplinary expertise has an interdisciplinary perspective.

Note: We acknowledge that medial and dual concentrations are exclusive to undergraduate programs. Moreover, cross-listing of courses is a frequent practice in graduate courses, co-teaching is not uncommon, and collaborative programs exist and flourish.