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PWR 2MA: What's Your Major? An Interdisciplinary Approach to Research & Problem Solving

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Dr. Anwar discusses PWR2MA.

One of the most common questions you are asked at Stanford is: “what are you studying?” or “what is your major?” While you choose a particular area of study as your major and intend to graduate with a degree in that discipline, you know very well that your field does not operate in a silo. On the contrary, we see increasing cross-pollination of disciplinary knowledge and skills. it’s becoming evident that the most challenging problems facing the world such as climate change, poverty, or access to quality education and healthcare can only be solved when researchers and scientists go out of their disciplinary trenches and engage in interdisciplinary work. It has also been shown that interdisciplinary research can have broader societal and economic impacts. Discussing the recent trends in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), Stanford professor of computer science Feifei Li said that her research has increasingly become cross-disciplinary and her projects involve “working with doctors at Stanford hospital, ethicists, law scholars, and behavioral psychologists.”

In this writing and speaking course, we will begin with a discussion on what an interdisciplinary approach is and how it can be more effective in addressing some of the most pressing problems. Then you will choose any social, economic, political, and technological issue that you are interested in to investigate in your final project. You will consider how research findings in different disciplines can increase our understanding of the issue and help us develop a more comprehensive solution to address it. Alternately, you can examine how the theoretical frameworks, methodologies, and practices developed in one field could be applied to solving problems in another discipline. For example, you can study how ethnography – a research methodology from anthropology – can be utilized to solve engineering problems such as product design or software development. You will develop interdisciplinary research skills and learn to communicate your findings in written, oral, and visual modes to multiple audiences.

Major Assignments

Research Proposal

(5-minute live oral presentation; written text of 900-1200 words) In your proposal, you will introduce your research project and discuss its significance. You will also discuss the disciplinary lenses and relevant sources you are planning to use in your research. You might, for example, propose to research how we can reduce mass incarceration by applying advances in computer science. Or you can explore how we can tackle the problem of drought by combining perspectives and approaches developed in the fields of ecology, political science, and engineering.

Written Research-Based Argument

(3000-3600 words; 10-12 pages) You will write a well-researched academic essay that draws on sources from multiple disciplines.

Delivery of Research

(10-minute live oral presentation with appropriate multimedia support) You will translate your research-based argument into a live 10-minute oral presentation.


(2-4 mins. spoken; 1-2 pages written) You will present the main findings of your research in a non-academic genre of your choice. It could be a news article, op-ed, 2-3 minute podcast, infographic, short story, etc. You can choose any genre as long as it helps you share your research results with a new audience.