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Getting a degree outside of a "discipline"?


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I am interested in applying to SUNY Buffalo's "Transnational Studies" PhD program but am not quite sure what the reality of the job market is going to be if attend and graduate. I have seen a few other specific or non-discipline degrees before but not many. Typically all of the faculty profiles I have been looking at for my interested disciplines are all pretty strictly disciplines. A few have been very focused or a few have had specialties in something like Migration Studies, Women's Studies, etc. But really what am I looking at with something like this?


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Interdisciplinary programs are risky. There are a *handful* (and I really do mean a handful, maybe fewer) with well-established reputations and good (such as it is) track records of placing people in academic jobs. "Interdisciplinary" is an academia buzzword, yes, but the way academia is structured, jobs tend to be in a disciplinary department. And then from there, it's hip to involve other things in your research. Migration Studies and Women's Studies would also fall under interdisciplinary. There are a couple of jobs out there in WS, for example, but most departments of it are comprised mainly of profs with a primary position in sociology, psychology, literature etc. who cross-list many of their classes as covering gender topics.

Get in touch with the department; ask them for placement statistics. Be sure you're getting honest data, and not the standard "everyone who wants an academic job gets it." Ask about tenure-track positions, number of students who drop out of the program before completion, the careers pursued by students who do not find permanent work in academia, etc.

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In addition to what Sparky said, sometimes it's risky to find funding for interdisciplinary programs. I think the administrative paradigm is "discipline" based, where the smallest administrative unit is a department that usually covers a specific discipline. Being in-between two or more disciplines/departments can cause one or more of the departments to "pass the buck" when it comes to funding or other logistical matters. I worked on the TA union at my old school and I noticed that we had to word things carefully (e.g. hiring preferences: Department X students should preferentially get TA positions in Dept. X) in order to make sure interdisciplinary students without a single department would not be excluded.

Generally, I think a program with a good reputation gets that way by providing great support for its students. But I would really really recommend talking to students already in programs that you're interested in and find out if they encountered any problems by being "in-between".

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