Graduate student Sam Ford (2007) was a member of the panel “The Perils and Promise of Interdisciplinarity” on Friday, April 14, at the National Popular Culture Association/American Culture Association Annual Conference in Atlanta.
His presentation, entitled “Break the Walls Down: Trumpeting a Desire to Blur Disciplinary Lines in Academia,” was part of a four-member discussion about the current status of interdisciplinary studies in American academic institutions. He was joined by Dr. Ted Hovet, head of the film studies minor and member of the English faculty at Western Kentucky University; Dr. Dale Rigby, writing professor at Western Kentucky University; and Amanda Ford, independent scholar.
The panel members were joined by about 30 audience members who actively participated in the discussion, which turned into a brainstorming session about the place of interdisciplinary studies in the current academic structure. All four panel members and most of the audience members have multiple interests that do not fit clearly into a traditional academic field, making the carving of an academic niche difficult, especially at schools and in programs more tied to a traditional academic structure.
Ford presented MIT’s Comparative Media Studies program as a potential alternative, where the department has most of its faculty spread across the university. The discussion included debates about costs of attending graduate school and doctoral programs for students not entirely happy with the structuring of most academic programs; the debate of looking outside academia, where interest in multiple areas may be, in some ways, better received and even celebrated; and a look at the positive moves toward embracing and effectively utilizing interdisciplinary studies. The group also looked at the potential reasons why universities are so invested in guarding against interdisciplinary studies and the misconceptions many people have with blurring or breaking some of the barriers built up between various strands of academia.