While I do not usually feel compelled to refer to myself as the college “undergraduate” I think, in this case, it emphasizes an important point. My point being that budding scientists, such as myself, are often very aware of the cultural differences that exist between academic disciplines. By cultural differences I mean the unique core of collective knowledge, assumptions, methodologies, and theories that form each disciplinary foundation and therefore necessarily condition the thought processes and research performed by each. Although the awareness of disciplinary divergence is high, concern often is not. Perhaps the lack of alarm is because, as academic newbies, undergraduates simply don’t know any better…yet anyway. It almost seems as if academia is structured in such a way as to perpetuate this cultural rift by subtly urging new graduate students to narrow their scope of study rather than building on the interdisciplinary mindset that becomes almost second nature to any motivated undergraduate.
During my first few years of undergraduate study I found myself concurrently taking classes that spanned vastly different scientific disciplines. A diverse study regime forced me to get comfortable with changing mental gears on a whim. In doing so, I quickly learned that my time spent studying could be more effective (and I could maintain my sanity) if I found ways to draw parallels and make connections whenever and wherever possible, even between anthropology and physics (have you ever considered human interaction and behavior in terms of Newton’s 3rd law of motion? Think about it…). In other words, the human brain is fully capable of interdisciplinary thinking we simply need to embrace the possibility. The social and ecological issues we face today are complex and therefore must be tackled with true interdisciplinary thinking that is integrative from conception to reflection. This is in contrast to what I consider pseudo-interdisciplinary thinking that simply smooshes single discipline solutions together and hurls them at complex problems with little consideration for the problem’s depth or magnitude.
As I stand at a fork in the road of knowledge with my undergraduate degree in my academic backpack prepared to journey towards an advanced degree, I feel compelled to choose one disciplinary path. In choosing only one (or perhaps two if they are related enough so as to not oppose one another too much) it seems as if I am essentially abandoning other disciplines I have come to love and appreciate as an undergrad. Why do I feel this way? I am aware of no explicit rule that says a graduate student can study only one discipline, but I feel as if it is culturally implied. Perhaps blame for the lack of true interdisciplinary work should not be placed on the structure of science or academia per se but should reside with us as scientists and global citizens for not questioning and challenging the accepted structure collectively.