I have come to realize that Plymouth State does not have “the perfect major” for me. Although it is a fantastic school, over the past year and a half of exploration I have come to find that I need complete my college degree in something a little more unique. Interdisciplinary Studies seems to be the solution to my dilemma. I am creating a major of my own.
Upon entering the world of Interdisciplinary Studies this semester, I have realized that in order to fully understand this new educational sphere, I should understand different people’s thoughts on it. Many people are unfamiliar with the concept, so I need to be aware of how the rest of the world may be perceiving my degree. I decided to start with an interview with one of my current academic advisors, Laura Tilghman.
I started the interview off by having her tell me about the courses that she teaches at Plymouth, which are a combination of introductory anthropology courses as well as upper level cultural anthropology courses. However, this was not her area of study while she was getting her undergraduate degree at University of Vermont. While she was there, she received two degrees, one being a BA in Environmental Studies, and the other being a BS in Environmental Science. These two degrees sparked her interest for graduate school, where she started looking to study environmental anthropology. She however, ended up doing her doctoral research on migration. So realizing it or not, she had somewhat of an interdisciplinary studies degree herself.
Once I learned what her educational background was, I was curious as to what her current research entailed. She explained that she is still interested in migration but on a more local level, focused largely in New Hampshire. Additionally, she does small projects on public health. She also did some work for the Veterans Administration. She was using anthropological tools, qualitative research, to evaluate some of their programs around ending veteran homelessness.
Once I figured out her education and research, I was then curious to how she works with a variety of people, from scholars outside of anthropology as well as non-academics. We both agreed that many people do not fully understand what anthropology is, she understands that, and explains it in a way that is understood by many people, which she does by using straightforward terms. She also has to explain her perspective, and why she may have a different tactic than others.
Additionally, anthropology is a set of tools that are helpful to understand the world, that also help to not make judgement of different ways of doing things, and to understand others who are both similar and different from us. So overall, she is constantly aware that although people are not always familiar with what anthropology is, it is a useful set of tools that are relevant to many things.
I proceeded to ask her if she ever has to collaborate with other people. Being a cultural anthropologist, she mainly conducts research alone. This is partially because people get the most credit when they are the sole author for a publication, or if they are the sole person on a grant. Although, she does not often collaborate with others, the exception that she has in her work is when she works with a research assistant to translate language or assist her in other ways. Often she works with just one person, but for large research projects she has worked with up to 20 people to administer surveys to a large number of people in a short amount of time.
Then, I asked her what some of her thoughts are on Plymouth’s new project for incorporating majors in an innovative way. Her response was that it is a great idea, however putting it into action is what will likely be challenging. We both agreed that in the end it will likely be a great system for everyone.
It appears from our current knowledge about Plymouth’s upcoming transformation, the school is hoping to integrate as many aspects of student’s education as possible. How that will all be implicated is yet to be determined. One option for the school to do, is to try and take our current system and make that more integrated. So one direction that the school could go toward, is trying to turn the required general education courses for all students in all majors, into an even more interdisciplinary system.
During our discussion, we agreed that often times we will hear students complaining about general education courses. All the while I am building my college major based on the same principles as a general education system. We agrees that it is important for students to understand the purpose of these courses being to make someone a well-rounded person, so that they can have knowledge outside of their specific field. This seems like the whole point of the integrated system that Plymouth is hoping to become, but currently students are not understanding the relevance of the small variety of courses that they are required to take outside of their field now.
Continuing with our interdisciplinary topic, I was curious if she does any interdisciplinary work herself. Her quick answer was no, but she hesitated then said in she does a small amount of interdisciplinary work. As she is interested in migration, there are other social science department faculty members who are also interested in migration, but look at it from another perspective, such as from a historical or political science perspective. In the past, they worked in a more traditional way instead of an interdisciplinary way of doing things. Typically, they each did their own research, then came together to discuss what they have found. They are now working towards becoming more collaborative, but they are not quite there yet.
Following that, I asked her if she thinks if there are any specific courses that anthropology students should be taking outside of their major. Her response was, it depends on the student. Since anthropology has such a large range of topics, the answer truly depends on which direction the student wants to go in upon graduation. For example, if a student wants to go into physical anthropology then they should be taking more biology courses, or possibly some nursing courses. Whatever will help the student gain more relevant knowledge toward their field.
I then asked her if she thinks that all types of students should have a more interdisciplinary education, or if students should focus on their one area of study. Again, her response was that it depends on the student. Sometimes it is great for students to have a large set of varying skills, depending on what direction the students wants their education, or career to go in. Then again, some students want a more specific area of study for their undergraduate degree because you need that depth for a certain field. Sometimes that can be accomplished in an interdisciplinary degree, but for others it is best for them to focus on one specific area. Then she proceeded to say that this is exactly why the general education system is important, because for the students who want to focus on one specific areas, this allows them to also be able to step briefly outside of their field and learn about other things.
Overall, it was an interesting conversation that I had with Laura. It was intriguing to see a new perspective on the interdisciplinary studies route of education. I will be sure to keep our conversation in mind as I continue through my new experience of Interdisciplinary Studies at Plymouth State.