Intersections as Inspiration

Submitted on November 11, 2019

By Elizabeth Labiner

Part of the Graduate Center’s mission is to foster interdisciplinary engagement with diverse communities. The generative power between scholars in different fields and from different backgrounds is immense; the innovation and creativity that occurs in the collaborative space is terrifically exciting. We’re happy to see more and more interdisciplinary work occurring at the University of Arizona, and even more opportunities are on the way.

Currently, there is an initiative in the works to pair graduate students across disciplines in order to expand and give new depth to their research. Funded by the Deans of the Graduate College, the College of Fine Arts, and the College of Science, the pilot program is designed to seed cross-disciplinary discussion and collaboration among graduate students who are interested in the generative intersections of science and the arts. Selected participants will share with each other the work of their lab or studio, engage in informal interactions that allow for a broader dialogue, and propose a collaborative project that incorporates both their fields of research or creative work. At the end of the year, they will give a joint presentation, addressing the results of their conversations and how they have impacted their own work.

Another area in which UArizona is focusing on interdisciplinary skills is that of science and writing. The Science Communication Graduate Certificate or multidisciplinary minor is available to all UArizona MS and PhD students, as well as postdoctoral fellows. The goal of this program is to train future science professionals in the skills needed to communicate effectively, harnessing the work of the humanities and social sciences and combining them with the expertise of scientists who are seeking to share their work more successfully. This program provides vital education; science communication is a critical societal need, yet most STEM graduate students have no formal training in how to communicate science to anyone other than a specialist audience. Hence, the focus here is on writing for public audiences and non-scientists. Employers of science graduates rate written and verbal communication skills as more important than any others, including technical knowledge of their core discipline. This program not only builds the skills necessary to succeed in academia, but makes graduate students irresistible to future employers in government, industry, and non-profit sectors.

The Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environmental and Social Justice similarly emphasizes the overlap between scientific and humanistic concerns, and works to support people protecting our planet and ensuring justice for those who inhabit it. The program invests funding in education and scholarship, University-community partnerships, and cross-cutting initiatives. It is particularly committed to supporting work that improves social justice (justice regarding the distribution of financial, social, political and human capital, opportunities, and privileges within a society) while simultaneously addressing environmental sustainability (such as climate change, pollution, natural resource degradation, and loss of biodiversity). The Haury Program offers grants, fellowships, and scholarships — and the latter are specifically for graduate students!

The Confluencenter for Creative Inquiry is a research institute under the Office of Research, Innovation & Impact that supports world-class collaboration, innovation, and interdisciplinary scholarship at UArizona. The Confluencenter brings together the arts, humanities, and social sciences both intellectually and in person, and their programming focuses on their commitment to the artistic and scholarly endeavors of faculty and students addressing some of the most pressing challenges in today’s world. The Confluencenter not only encourages interdisciplinarity across campus communities, promotes a dynamic intellectual environment, and supports creative research and activities, but also works to share the results of such collaboration with the broader public community. 

Another organization housed under the Office of Research, Innovation & Impact is the Udall Center for Studies in Public Policy, a center focused on connecting efforts to address environmental and social problems. It is an interdisciplinary research unit whose primary mission is to facilitate, analyze, and provide evidence-based options for potential solutions to major policy issues through research, education, and public service. The Udall Center specializes in issues related to environmental policy and Indigenous nations policy, bridging disciplines and connecting backgrounds to create a comprehensive understanding of the determinants, impacts, and further development of public policies.

These campus units comprise a wide variety of opportunities for individual interdisciplinary projects as well as collaboration with other scholars and educators both at the university and in the wider community. The funding they offer is also a great resource; consider applying and continuing the evolution of interdisciplinary work at UArizona!