Most Polymathic Scholars don’t begin the process of designing a field of study before their second year. The very few exceptions are those who already know in their first year what they’d like to propose, have received permission from their PS academic consultant to proceed, and are anxious to get started. If you’re a freshman who is interested in many things but not ready to begin the process of focusing on one of them, you’re in good company.
At its most basic, designing a field of study consists of two steps: determining a personally compelling, academically defensible, and feasible field (see below), and writing a proposal for faculty review. Polymaths select one of two paths to design their field: they can either enroll during their second year in a 1-credit-hour seminar, NSC 109, or work individually with a PS consultant.
In NSC 109, Polymathic Scholars Field Invention, 15 to 18 Polymaths meet once weekly for 14 weeks. The first six weeks are dedicated to identifying students’ interests, mapping those interests onto academic fields that already exist at UT-Austin, and determining questions related to those interests that might be answerable by research that blends expertise from at least two of those fields. This first seminar unit culminates in each student naming her own field of study. In the last eight weeks, the seminar becomes a writing workshop in which students read their field proposal to the group and make oral and written comments on others’ proposals. By the end of the semester, students submit polished proposals online for faculty review.
Students who elect to work individually with a consultant will do all of the above, minus the collaboration with other Polymaths. Over the past two years, over 90% of Polymaths have elected to take the seminar.
Each Polymath’s field of study should meet three baseline criteria. It should be
Personally compelling. The proposal format requires you not only to describe your field but to explain why the field interests you. Your subject should engage you; it should motivate you to try your best to understand it, even if understanding it may prove impossible.
Academically defensible. A field must constitute a coherent interdisciplinary subject suitable for academic study beyond your major. When it’s used in this way, “field” is a metaphor: just as a physical field is a single, bounded area made up of different kinds of organic material, a PS field is a unified subject made up of knowledge drawn from different academic disciplines. “Music and the Brain” is a coherent interdisciplinary field; “Music and the Nose ” probably is not. Music has an intimate relationship with the former but not the latter (as far as we know). The field must also be suitable for academic study. ”Music in American Politics” is; “Music in My Life” isn’t. (What can and can’t be studied in different disciplines is fascinating and complicated. Polymaths will learn how to ask different kinds of productive research questions in UGS 303, Originality in the Arts and Sciences and NSC 109, Polymathic Scholars Field Invention.)
Feasible. You must be able to identify at least two faculty members at UT-Austin whose research interests overlap yours, and at least five courses from at least two different departments that are relevant to your field of study. You must also be qualified to take them. Law School classes, for example, are generally off-limits to undergraduates.
We encourage you to see what other Polymaths have studied in previous years. Next, take a look at our Resources page: there you’ll find an interactive map listing the colleges and departments at UT-Austin.