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The Interdisciplinary Studies Field Major (ISF) at UC-Berkeley offers students the opportunity to develop an individualized cross disciplinary research major utilizing courses from the social sciences, the humanities, and/or the professional schools and colleges. It also enables students to apply key concepts and theoretical instruments from the Social Sciences and/or Humanities to the research design and execution of a senior thesis. The ISF Major is unique in the College of Letters and Science in the importance it assigns to the faculty advising role. The student's part in this aspect of the major is active, not passive. That is, the student actively plans her/his own research and study program and cultivates a working relationship with the assigned or chosen faculty adviser as she/he proceeds through the various stages of study and research. Through the process of application, advising and researching and writing the thesis, students and faculty advisors continuously interact with each other.
Before being admitted to the major, the students must explain their academic goals, outline their research focus, and describe the proposed course of study (2-3 pages). In most other majors, the department lays out all course requirements. In the ISF Major, however, only the "World Civilization" courses and the "core theory courses" [ISF l00A, and/or l00B, 100C, 100D, 100E, 100F and l90/195] are prescribed. Other prerequisites and requirements are individually determined. This means that it is the student's responsibility, in close consultation with her/his faculty adviser, to select the most appropriate courses each semester. The only way this selection can reasonably be made is by reference to the criteria -explicit and implicit- set forth in the student's "AREA OF CONCENTRATION," the student’s research area, that is.
Each student, with the help of a faculty adviser, will select courses and focus his/her major on the basis of a unifying problem, issue, theme or topic called an ‘Area of Concentration’ [area of research]. The area of concentration / research must meet three criteria to be acceptable:
- First, the area of concentration must be interdisciplinary. This means the area of concentration must integrate knowledge and theoretical frameworks from at least three fields and disciplines. The principle of integration can be historical, regional, thematic or problem-focused.
- Second, the area of concentration must not replicate an existing major. The purpose of the ISF major is to link undergraduates with clusters of courses and faculty where no structured or formal program exists.
- Third, the area of concentration must be feasible. Each student's proposed program must be discussed with a faculty adviser to make sure that the range and number of courses required will be available.