If you’ve read any of the materials on the Tufts Admissions website, attended an information session, or gone on a campus tour, odds are you’ve heard about Tufts’ interdisciplinary focus. This is a big part of Tufts’ liberal arts approach, as reflected by the distribution requirement for students in the School of Arts & Sciences that encourages you to explore disciplines outside of your major. But you might be wondering, “What does that interdisciplinary mindset look like in practice?” Let me take you through how three of my courses (among many!) have reflected intertwining disciplines at Tufts.
Grimms’ Fairy Tales
During my first semester at Tufts, I took a class all about the fairy tales written by the Brothers Grimm. We compared different retellings and versions of several fairy tales across the decades—centuries, even—to analyze how they changed depending on the society and time period in which they were written. But beyond literary analysis, the course brought in elements of women’s and gender studies, allowing us to investigate how the female characters in particular were portrayed. We also learned about the context in which each fairy tale was written: what purpose a fairy tale serves in a particular culture (such as in Germany), what sort of literature was being produced at the time, and more. By combining skills and topics from comparative literature, women’s and gender studies, and German history, we gained a new outlook on the stories that we had heard for years.
Second Language Acquisition
Fast forward to my senior year, and I am enrolled in a course about second language acquisition—both how students learn a second language and best practices for teaching a second language. The class is made up of a broad range of backgrounds: we have several graduate students pursuing degrees to teach Latin; some undergraduates, studying anything from biology, Spanish, and German (me!) to cognitive and brain science; and a couple of auditors sitting in on the course because they’re interested in the content. Our professor actively encourages us to share how our academic backgrounds influence our perception of what we’re learning and lets us follow our interests. Our final project is completely open-ended, so one student can focus on the neuroscience of language acquisition while another compares approaches for teaching Latin versus Russian.
Teaching Biology: Pedagogy and Practice
I’m also currently taking a graduate course about teaching biology. Everyone in the class has their own background in biology, having attended different undergraduate institutions and compiled various work and life experiences before starting their graduate studies at Tufts. In any given discussion, we bring in perspectives from environmental biology, nanobiology, molecular biology, biochemistry, developmental biology, and more. One of our main assignments in this course is designing and leading a 10-minute teaching activityl I am planning to intertwine my passions by talking about the intersection of science and language. The interdisciplinarity that is at the core of Tufts gives me the confidence that my classmates will be open to combining these two seemingly-unrelated fields, and I can design my activity without worrying that the topic might be considered too ‘out there.’
As you can see, Tufts’ interdisciplinary mindset really does impact the courses we offer! Having this kind of approach has helped me get the most out of my experiences in each course: I have the flexibility to shape the course to my interests and am encouraged to bring my own ideas to the table. This attitude creates a more enriching dialogue, one that allows us to learn from one another and probe beyond the typical boundaries of a topic. Any one class at Tufts might officially belong to one discipline, but you might find that you are exposed to even more disciplines and ideas through the units the course covers and the conversations you have within them. This interdisciplinarity was a large part of what made me so excited about Tufts as a prospective student, and Tufts has not let me down!