Fostering the Convergent Spirit

For decades, the overwhelming amount of information coming from major disciplines has led to a multiplication of ever-narrowing fields of discovery. Scholars have become experts in increasingly more restricted domains. Narrow expertise is still of immense importance; however, the problems of the 21st century do not fall into neatly and narrowly defined academic disciplines. For USC to lead, we must identify, recruit, train, support, and reward talent that sees problems and solutions from multiple viewpoints, moves fluidly across disciplines, and works comfortably in large, disparate teams. And we must continue our commitment to curiosity-based research and inquiry which so often inspires the mindset we hope to instill. USC must foster the convergent spirit.

USC has long been building convergence. It is quite common for faculty to have multiple appointments across schools. Over the past decade, USC has recruited a cadre of “Provost” professors, world-renowned scholars whose research and creative work has impact in multiple disciplines. Dauterive Hall is a leading center for interdisciplinary social science research, and the Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience brings together scientists and engineers in large-team settings to tackle increasingly complex problems, like cancer. Programs in Visual Studies, Gender Studies, Media Studies, and Thematic Option strengthen the convergent mindset across the humanities and humanistic social sciences. The Neuroscience Graduate Program, a university-wide Ph.D. training program launched in 1982, was one of the first of its kind. And top undergraduates completing degrees in multiple disciplines have long been recognized as Renaissance Scholars. Indeed, this is only a small sampling of work USC has done in the area of convergence.

Still, much more needs to be done. Over the next several years, we will invest in faculty whose work brings together divergent fields to solve intractable problems. We will invest in research in which the methodologies of one discipline are deployed in the context of one or more other disciplines to understand and attack from multiple directions the challenges of our time. We will create training programs for graduate and professional students, for postdoctoral fellows, and for junior faculty so that they become more fluent in multidisciplinary work. We will leverage USC’s immense strength in the arts, digital media, information technologies, and computer science to develop new learning and teaching paradigms. We will put into place policies and reward systems that encourage team research, creative team endeavors, and team teaching. We will create more opportunities for students to engage in group-based projects, we will create new ways students can show proficiency across disciplines, and we will make them adept at harnessing the wealth of information that currently exists across all domains of inquiry. We will change the conversation so that students speak less about their major and more about what great problems of the 21st century they hope to solve.