The advantages of a multidisciplinary education

In many ways, today’s young adults are more aware, decisive and responsible for their own futures. Beyond schooling, as students step into the world of higher education, it becomes the duty of modern universities to have an educational arena that fosters discovery, growth and most of all, keeps the flame of interest eternally ignited.

All this, and much more can be achieved through a multidisciplinary approach. But coming from times when academic departments don’t speak to each other, opportunities are unknown, and access is scarce, it is first important to understand what exactly is this possibility of a multidisciplinary education.

  1. Learn more, at once

O.P. Jindal Global University was established keeping global best practices in mind. “Traditionally, the university system in the country has always been fragmented into silos. So there’s never been much interaction, transfer of knowledge or cross-learning between disciplines,” explains Prof. Sreeram Sundar Chaulia, Dean, Jindal School of International Affairs. If you look at the topmost universities worldwide, learning happens quite differently. “Consciously breaking down boundaries between disciplines, students can take up courses from different schools. This means the breadth and depth of university education are tremendously enhanced. The most effective universities are always multidisciplinary,” he adds.

Cross-listing courses across all schools at JGU sets the tone for a truly multidisciplinary education. Students are required to choose electives for credits. This not only exposes students to new and diverse disciplines, concepts, thoughts or perspectives, but also helps them discover what interests them, and how to link their specialised areas of study to other variables. You could be studying public policy and at the same time, taking courses on journalism, law or environment and be better for it. In fact, students even come forward and request new courses. Faculty take student feedback very promptly, and often create new courses based on student interest.

2. Strong mentorship 

A youngster fresh out of high school, does not always have a handle on life’s choices ahead—and that’s okay. Higher education is not only about gaining advanced knowledge of disciplines, but also learning more about yourself, discovering your interests, nurturing your passions, channelling your talents, challenging yourself and growing as a student, individual, and member of society.

This is where mentorship comes into play. In many schools at JGU, students are matched with a mentor at the time of admission. They meet often and discussions range from personal to academic issues. Students receive fine-grained involvement from faculty that is seldom available in traditional universities. This close interaction is especially important to guide students to shift gears from high-school to university and then the world at large—where the environment is drastically different.

The qualities and qualifications of faculty play a big role. Of over 570 faculty from 32 countries, 51% are alumni from the top 200 global universities. Extremely qualified, they bring with them a diversity of expertise and perspectives. The average age of JGU professors is hardly 37. There’s much less of a gulf between students and faculty. This gives rise to a peer-level, generational understanding, and faculty can better relate to students’ circumstances, dilemmas, interests, thoughts and ideas more easily, because they may have themselves been through similar soul-searching not too long ago. 

3. Critical thinking & problem-solving skills 

At the end of the day, the real world is complex. Phenomena are complex. You simply cannot understand it through one lens. A rounded, holistic perception is key. An inevitable outcome of looking at life and learning through a multidisciplinary lens is the ability to approach problems with a broader perspective.

For a student who is studying, for instance, the course on ‘Green Marketing’ offered by the Jindal School of Liberal Arts and Humanities—which combines the subjects of environment, business and economics—this crossing over and coming together of disciplines trains the mind to join the dots between many aspects of a problem. You begin to think out of the box. You can draw from a range of concepts, disciplines and perspectives to identify the best integrated solutions to today’s problems that are themselves multifaceted.

4. Diversify interests and opportunities 

‘Bollywood Nights’ were a big hit at the JGU campus. There would be tents, complete with lights and sound, right by the famous flagpole. The student who conceptualised it, Ajay Singh Rathore, would come riding up on a bike to kick off the spectacular show, reminisces Prof. Arjya B. Majumdar, who teaches corporate law at Jindal Global Law School. Rathore was a law student. He now runs an event management company called ‘W for Weddings’. Rathore ascribes his off-beat entrepreneurial venture solely to the fact that he was allowed to do whatever he was passionate about at JGU. That’s the kind of freedom that students can expect. It pushes them to be wild, free, adventurous and at the same time, encourage them to take responsibility. This reflects in their academic performance as well. Even while specialising in one subject, students have the chance to foray into other areas that interest them, and harness it to the fullest. 

Sky’s the limit for careers coming from a multidisciplinary background. Students from the Jindal School of International Affairs have become journalists. Law students have become climate entrepreneurs. Liberal Arts students have joined corporations and think tanks. This is only possible because of their multidisciplinary training, the support of faculty and the very multidisciplinary institutional framework at JGU.

5. Unique classroom experiences 

Classes at JGU are deliberately small. On average, the faculty-student ratio is a very comfortable 1:10. This makes way for learning that is more interactive, engaging and intimate. Prof. Armin Rosencranz, who teaches Law & Public Policy, recalls an evening when his students gathered for a celebration. “They were all expressing joy and a sense of achievement. This was after a course on International Climate Litigation where students took different roles as plaintiff, defendants and a panel of judges. They really enjoyed the opportunity to interact this way rather than just sitting in a lecture and listening. They had a lot of responsibility and could bounce off ideas among themselves. It was very lively,” says Prof. Rosencranz, who often uses this engaging approach in his lessons—and clearly, students love it.

Associate Prof. Arun Kumar Kaushik has successfully pulled off ‘fun with maths’ in the Jindal School of Liberal Arts & Humanities. Teaching a foundation course on introductory mathematics, he brings in a cake to the classroom. Students are asked to cut through it and pass it on to understand certain principles of the subject. At the end of the day, the flavour of maths is greatly spiked, thanks to this inventive method—and the cake, of course!

Tools and techniques like this are not uncommon at JGU. Classrooms come alive with role-plays, case studies, presentations, audio-visual aids, field work, texts, hands-on-learning, guest lectures, seminars and much more. Discussions, debate and dialogue are encouraged. In fact, class participation even accounts for a percentage of students’ grades. 

6. Preparing for new jobs

Who could imagine, just a few years ago, that you could earn million by playing videos games and live streaming it? Or turn your passion for food, travel, music or just about anything under the sun, into a lucrative living as a blogger? The likes of YouTubers, social media influences or SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) specialists have joined an ever-evolving list of jobs that simply did not exist even a decade ago.

New roles are being carved out with the changing times—and in an era of exponential change and development, an undiscovered future awaits young India. Even recruits are on the lookout for hiring multidisciplinary talent. Narrow training is giving way to transferrable and dynamic skills. Through a multidisciplinary approach, a student gains an arsenal of skills—problem-solving, critical thinking, time-management, self-management, communication and writing, analysis and research methodologies, team work, and much more—that are easily transferable across work environments.

Youngsters can now find very interesting careers in new and emerging fields as a result of a vibrant multidisciplinary background. It gives them the exposure, education and experience to branch out into different directions and expands their avenues.

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