Questioning the canons

To do adventuresome academic work, students may need to question the implicit assumptions and ways of knowing in their disciplines.  Indeed, it is because of this kind of questioning that disciplines evolve.

Sometimes students find that their perspectives or intellectual interests do not fit neatly into the current academic canons. For instance, interest in interdisciplinary questions and the social applications of knowledge is growing, but the structure of some programs makes it difficult for students to pursue these questions in their research and teaching. Studies suggest that underrepresented students experience this disjuncture more keenly; however, majority students face it as well.

Productive scholarly environments value new ways of thinking and encouraging students to explore, and possibly challenge, different models of inquiry.

Suggestions for Students

  • Be open to hearing about other students' and faculty members' experiences and perspectives.
  • Convey your interests by sharing an essay or scholarly article that exemplifies the kind of work you would like to do.
  • Be prepared to formulate and present strong, compelling arguments for the importance of a new or nontraditional line of inquiry. Seek feedback on your arguments, identify their weaknesses, and work to strengthen them.
  • Check out interdisciplinary programs and research centers across campus that can provide a community of scholars whose interests cross traditional boundaries. For instance, find out more about Programs in African American and African Studies, Latino and Latin American Studies, Native American Studies, Women's and Gender Studies, and the Institute for Ethnic Studies.
  • Identify content that is traditionally excluded or marginalized in your discipline and help develop strategies to address that content via teaching and research.
  • Throughout your graduate school career, demonstrate the breadth of your intellectual curiosity through your contributions in classes, seminars, brown bags and lectures.
  • As you develop your mentoring relationships, be clear with the faculty about the range of your research interests.

Suggestions for Faculty

  • Listen to students' experiences and perspectives. Ask them to share scholarly articles or essays that illustrate the work they would like to do.
  • Identify content that is traditionally excluded or marginalized in your field and expand the boundaries of your discipline by addressing it.
  • Help your students learn about the many interdisciplinary communities of scholars that exist on campus.
  • Foster ongoing departmental discussions on how disciplinary and interdisciplinary theory and methodology are changing because of the inclusion of more diverse content, approaches, and perspectives.