Jack of all trades, master of none

Fasos Anniversary Week: panel debate on interdisciplinary programmes


Studying a single discipline without an interdisciplinary perspective is blind. However: an interdisciplinary programme that lacks thorough training in any particular field is empty, according to Machiel Keestra. This assistant professor at the Amsterdam Institute for Disciplinary Studies was one of the members of the Fasos panel debate on ‘The future of interdisciplinary programmes’ last Monday.

The European Studies programme has now been running for ten years, Arts and Culture for twenty. This is something to celebrate, thought the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. And so it organised a committee of students to put together the Fasos Anniversary Week. Apart from the debate last Monday evening, there was also a movie night on Tuesday, and today there will be a creative writing workshop for students, a Turkish Food Event and a party. Tomorrow, the week will end with a students’ breakfast and a chill-out afternoon in Banditos.

How much interdisciplinarity is useful, and can there be too much of it? And what about the labour market: does it need graduates from these kinds of programmes? These were just some of the questions raised during the debate led by Professor Tsjalling Swierstra.

Interdisciplinarity is “hard work”, the panel agreed, not in the least because you have to relate different academic fields (law, economics, philosophy, psychology, political science, etc.) to one another and you are pushed, as panel member Dr Heidi Maurer said, to think in different ways, look from different perspectives and beyond borders. But it’s important, because most of our societal problems and questions require an interdisciplinary approach. It’s also quite different from multidisciplinarity. “That’s a bit of everything; that’s UCM”, said panel member Karin van der Ven, graduate of European Studies and owner and CEO of Jules & You.

While panel member Constanze Müller (Fasos student and member of the University Council) argued that the job market needs people with an interdisciplinary background – in her view: “Graduates who are flexible and can apply theories in practice” – Van der Ven wasn’t so sure if the job market is ready for a jack of all trades, master of none. “When you look at the vacancies, what they ask for is people educated in a very clear field.” Moreover: she’s not sure if the students are ready for it. “At Jules &You I see a pattern. Students from UCM who work for us are less secure than specialists: can I do the job, do I know enough? Programmes focusing on several disciplines create uncertainty.” Later in the discussion, Machiel Keestra from Amsterdam remarked: “Our University College students aren’t known for their uncertainty, but rather for their arrogance.”

Does interdisciplinarity work well with bachelor’s programmes, or should only master’s have an interdisciplinary structure? It’s good to gain a broad perspective in the bachelor’s phase, said Müller, “because then you’re better prepared to choose a master’s”. A bachelor’s programme is not an elective programme with free choice, Van der Ven en Maurer respond. Van der Ven: “I would be in favour of a bachelor’s with a disciplinary structure and an interdisciplinary minor, and a master’s that deepens your knowledge and interdisciplinarity.”






Riki Janssen

More info: www.facebook.com/FaSosCelebration

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