Wednesday, April 24

IDS opens doors to research


Major's reinstatement improves interdepartmental options for undergraduate contributions to studies

“We are happy to announce that the IDS major will reopen for admission in Fall 2010!!!!!!” So begins a note on the international development studies website posted Monday. Even without the emphasis of six exclamation marks, it should be obvious that this is good news.

But there is more to celebrate than just the program’s return and improvement. IDS is a program that encourages interdisciplinary studies at the undergraduate level, which seem to be encouraged much more at the graduate and faculty levels.

The IDS major was able to improve by inviting full professors to teach core classes for credit toward their research funding, similar to the way Fiat Lux seminars operate, said Michael Lofchie, chair of the program.

This modified Fiat Lux model is one that other interdepartmental degree programs should all think about using to increase their faculty base as these programs tend to have few faculty dedicated to their departments and we cannot afford to lose the few interdisciplinary efforts that exist at the undergraduate level.

The interdisciplinary collaboration employed by these programs is being discouraged at the undergraduate level by the university through actions such as removing the economics/international area studies major and the political science major’s allied field requirements.

And while the university has some excuse in that administrators are just making pragmatic decisions based on the budget cuts, other groups lack this excuse.

There are very interesting interdisciplinary programs on campus that disappointingly do not work with undergraduates at all.

The Williams Institute of the UCLA School of Law is the only university think tank focused on sexual orientation law in the nation. It employs interdisciplinary mechanisms by working with experts in law, economics, demography, education, and public policy. While it offers law students fellowships and research opportunities, it has no means by which undergraduate students can get involved.

Another example of a great program not using undergraduates is the Water Technology Research Center. The WaTeR Center is working to advance “scientific understanding and technological basis for the production of new water sources,” according to its website, but it has no undergraduate students taking part in research.

One argument for these types of interdisciplinary programs not catering to undergraduates is that they are highly specialized areas of study.

One research area listed on the center’s website is “antiscalants ranking and dose optimization,” which probably requires more than an undergraduate-level chemistry background.

The Williams Institute’s specialized area of law research requires a detailed knowledge of state and federal statutes and legal theory.

But this argument discounts the ability of undergraduates. While no one is expecting a 19-year-old to revolutionize antiscalants ranking or convince judges of the unconstitutionality of Prop 8, undergraduates can at least assist in labs and in background research.

Many are already doing their own research for their departments and for other programs on campus. Why not let them get involved with the interdisciplinary programs as well?

California NanoSystems Institute, a multidisciplinary research center, offers undergraduate research opportunities and coursework in nanotoxicology, which proves that even highly specialized areas of study can offer undergraduate coursework.

This model of involving undergraduates should be copied by other centers on campus so that we too can take full advantage of this research university’s offerings.

Harryette Mullen, a professor of English, said that the resources for undergraduates are there, but that it is on the students to search for them with persistence.

There should be more opportunities for undergraduates to work across the lines of academic disciplines because the beauty of being at a university like this is having world-class departments in every field of study in close proximity.

Not giving undergraduates the ability to take advantage of these resources is a shame at best and harmful at worst.

If you’re an undergraduate and antiscalants are your thing, e-mail Ramzanali at [email protected] Send general comments to [email protected]

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