The Joys of Interdisciplinarity

What can you do with a Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences degree?

The interdisciplinary nature of a Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences degree means that students can approach their four years of study in a variety of different ways. We asked several tutors from the course to provide some examples below. 


James: “You can pursue further study”

At first glance, an interdisciplinary degree programme doesn’t look like the best preparation for further study: surely studying at Masters or PhD level requires the deep immersion in a single discipline that comes from a single honours degree!

In fact, interdisciplinary study can make you a distinctive, innovative candidate for further study, and this for two reasons:

  1. An interdisciplinary degree can allow you to focus more precisely on a subject that sits across more than one discipline. For example, you can select relevant modules from engineering, sociology and anthropology to identify solutions to climate change that work in real-world contexts. Such a profile would, for example, make you an excellent candidate for an MSc in Environmental Change and Management at Oxford. 
  2. An interdisciplinary degree program forces you to engage with different perspectives and leaves you, as a result, less likely to assume that a certain way of doing something is natural or self-evident. Even a little bit of experience working with computer programming, for example, is likely to change the way you approach literary texts. Even if you aren’t an expert in computer science, you will ask the kinds of questions that will make you attractive to the Literary Lab at Stanford. 

The examples above are just a couple of the opportunities that could open up as a result of a degree in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences. The reality is that, just as the degree allows you to shape your undergraduate education, it also allows you to shape that of your future!

James Everest

Dr James Everest is a Teaching Fellow in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences. He has an undergraduate degree in French, a Masters in English and a PhD in History.

Ilija: “You learn the value and utility of scholarship”

The Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences community at Birmingham is unique within the university. Our students are unquenchably curious and of the highest calibre, and our staff all share a common interdisciplinary ethos. Coupled with a relatively small cohort size and our own dedicated space on campus, the resulting community positively buzzes 

A key part of a good university learning experience comes from having sustained engagement with those who are working in subjects outside of your immediate area of interest. This is built into the Liberal Arts & Natural Sciences programme: both inside the classroom (e.g. in core courses) and outside it (e.g. with the central student hub and in a packed social and cultural programme). Such an environment naturally engenders a receptive and ever-curious community amongst staff and students alike.

Interdisciplinarity is not an easy model by which to work. It requires intellectual rigour, academic integrity and dogged perseverance, but most importantly, a willingness to do things differently. By the end of four years, our graduates have extensive practice working like this and reflecting on such a unique learning journey. Instead of learning for learning’s sake, they have the skill and experience to apply their scholarship in a wide variety of settings. They go out into the world with a unique skill-set and confidence in their abilities, ready to add value to society.

Ilija Rašović

Dr Ilija Rasovic has a dual role between Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences and the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences. He teaches modules with an interdisciplinary science focus, is a personal tutor, supervises final year dissertations, and leads the Cultural Programme.

Julia: “You can work towards a specific job.”

Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences is the perfect degree if you have a specific job in mind after graduation. Very few employers look for a graduate skilled in only one area, so an interdisciplinary portfolio can make you the most accomplished candidate for any job.

Think big — If your dream job is to work for the United Nations, just one area of expertise isn’t enough. The purpose of the United Nations is to face common problems in today’s world, manage shared responsibilities, and work together to achieve an inclusive and sustainable global community.

One example of a United Nations role you might think about is Management Officer for the United Nations Environment Programme. This requires a diverse skill-set, as well as a portfolio of subject knowledge which you cannot get from one single honours degree. You would need:

  • Degree in Biological Sciences or Natural Sciences
  • Proficiency in French (the language of the United Nations)
  • Familiarity with politics and different government structures
  • Knowledge of international relations
  • Experience of working with people with different specialisms

Our flexible Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences programme will allow you to meet these wide-ranging criteria. You can combine modules from Environmental Sciences, French, Politics and International Relations, whilst our core modules will give you an even broader access to specialists from all areas of the University.

With such a relevant portfolio, you will walk into the United Nations feeling very confident about your job interview. Bonne chance!

Julia Myatt

Dr Julia Myatt is a Lecturer in Behavioural Ecology and Morphology. Her research interests have focused on the morphology-behaviour-habitat interface in non-human Great Apes and the collective behaviour of group-living animals.

Mircea: “You can solve a global problem.”

Our world faces many complex problems. Often, the most robust solutions are found through collaboration and understanding the problem from different perspectives. As such, Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences is an ideal place to start for any student hoping to make the world a better place.

For instance, one of the most important problems that needs addressing today is how to make a healthy diet more appealing to those whose good health depends on it. Lifestyle-related and dietary-related diseases (diabetes, CHD, obesity) contribute significantly to worldwide mortality and they are projected to rise in the coming decades.

Interdisciplinary education, such as that offered by Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences, will show that no single factor is singularly responsible, but rather a variety of factors which cut across conventional disciplinary boundaries.

If I were to approach this problem, I would need to gain understanding from a variety of areas:

  • Biology and nutrition – To understand the biological underpinnings of our food preferences, as well as the effect of particular foods on the human body.
  • Sociology – The food ‘culture’ in which one is socialised emerges as an important determinant of our food habits.
  • Psychology – To understand motivation for purchasing certain foods.
  • Marketing – How advertising and brand strategy, such as celebrity endorsements, increases the appeal of healthy foods.
  • Economics, business, politics – To understand the ecology of our eating habits, ranging from sales strategies to government taxing of certain food items.
  • History and anthropology – To find case studies to understand the impact of modifying each of the above factors.
  • Statistics – A grounding in statistical and methodological research methods, qualitative and quantitative, will help support further research into this area.
  • Languages and cultures — to understand how communities view themselves and communicate amongst themselves, and to learn to speak from and to their diverse perspectives.
Mircea Scrob

Dr Mircea Scrob is a Teaching Fellow in Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences. His research interests are food studies, mixed research methods, the economic history of modern Eastern Europe, and the history of nutritional science in the 20th century. 

Shelley: "You can choose subjects based on genuine curiosity."

As the former Deputy Dean, I have a particular commitment to a Liberal Arts and Sciences approach to Higher Education because I personally benefited enormously from this educational experience myself, which is the norm in Canada.

Pursuing a Liberal Arts and Sciences degree afforded me the opportunity to be open to studying subjects of which I had no prior knowledge. There was no pressure to know exactly what I wanted to specialise in prior to embarking on my studies. This allowed me to choose my modules based upon genuine curiosity.

In the process, I discovered where my authentic interests lay and I switched from an English major after my first year to a major in Sociology. I successfully pursued that in-depth disciplinary training while also continuing to explore new fields of inquiry such as Eastern Religion, Archaeology, and American Literature – choices made simply for the love of learning.

The open structure of the degree also allowed me to build-in a more sustained study of specific areas of interest, such as psychology and criminology which complemented my major.

Shelley Budgeon

Dr Shelley Budgeon is a former Deputy Dean of Liberal Arts and Natural Sciences and a Senior lecturer in Sociology. Her expertise is in the field of gender studies. She specialises in theorising the relationship between gender and various forces of social change focusing on their impact upon key social institutions, as well as, individual identities.