How does the Statistics department define interdisciplinary study?
The Statistics department uses key words such as collaboration and fully integrated when describing its flagship MORSE/MMORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics) degree programme.
Its view of interdisciplinary study involves inter-departmental co-operation and sharing of resources, so that students can receive the best possible teaching in multiple disciplines. The word integrate(d) is very commonly used when describing (M)MORSE and (M)MathStat.
"Both courses involve substantial collaboration with other departments at Warwick (especially Department of Mathematics, Department of Economics, Warwick Business School)."
"Warwick is the only university to offer this integrated degree scheme..."
"All modules are taught by subject specialists, and so the Department collaborates with the Departments of Mathematics, Economics, and the Warwick Business School for the MORSE and BSc MMORSE Degrees."
In what way do the courses offered by Statistics claim to be interdisciplinary?
As taken directly from the website:
The Department of Statistics offers two undergraduate degree courses:
- MathStat / MMathStat (Mathematics and Statistics), UCAS codes GG13, GGC3
- MORSE / MMORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics), UCAS codes GLN0, G0L0
Both courses are stated to be single honours courses on the website, but I would classify them more as combined courses due to their interdepartmental nature.
Both courses are very similar in structure, it being possible to replicate the MathStat course entirely by selecting the right options while studying MORSE. The MORSE course has more compulsory modules, in order to fulfill the requirement of the degree title, but most of these are also available to MathStat students.
As evidenced above, both courses make substantial claims at being interdisciplinary. The department argues on the main page that Statistics lends itself by its nature to interdisciplinary applications.
“Statistical methods and the application of probability theory are essential to the understanding of data and underlying processes in a very wide variety of fields, including health sciences, economics and finance, social science, government, engineering, biological and physical sciences.”
The MORSE and MMORSE degree courses claim to put this theory into practice by allowing students a great deal of choice in the direction they take their degree and a wide variety of different disciplines that they can study.
For the three year MORSE degree:
“For part of the first two years, and the whole of the third, students are free to choose from a wide range of topics.”
“Final year students can elect to specialise in one or two of the main subject areas or can continue a balanced programme by selecting topics from all four departments.”
For the four year MMORSE integrated masters degrees:
“From the third year onwards, students specialise in one of the following four areas:
- Actuarial and Financial Mathematics.
- Operational Research, Systems and Statistics.
- Econometrics and Mathematical Economics.
- Statistics with Mathematics”
1.3 MORSE, 1.4 Integrated Masters Degree in MORSEhttp://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/statistics/courses/handbooks/morse_08-09.pdf
Hence students study a broad based spectrum in their first two years and can choose to specialise or continue to study a wide range of disciplines depending on their degree path.
The department is also keen to push the interdisciplinary options available in the handbook section on module choices. Contrary to Classics for example, the language used to describe unusual options is much more positive.
“Choice of Optional Modules
MORSE offers an enormous range of optional modules. Compulsory modules and the more popular options are described in the body of this handbook. However, in principle, you may take most modules available anywhere in the University as unusual options.”
To take an unusual option you need to fill in a special form available from the Statistics undergraduate office. You will need the agreement (and signatures) of the module organiser, your personal tutor and the Undergraduate Course Tutor. Don’t be put off by this – it’s quite straightforward. In most cases there are no problems in obtaining everyone’s agreement however there are some restrictions that you should note:
First year modules may only be taken by first year students with the exception of Language Centre modules or when the regulations give explicit permission to do so.
In the final year of a degree (year 3 of a 3 year degree and year 4 of a 4 year degree) students may not take a language option intended for a complete beginner.
No more than 30 CATS credit of unusual options may be taken in any one year.
The CATS credit for a module taken as an unusual option may differ from the credit awarded when the option is taken as a normal option. The amount of credit you will be awarded is decided when you are granted permission to take the option.”
2.12 Choice of Optional Moduleshttp://www2.warwick.ac.uk/fac/sci/statistics/courses/handbooks/morse_08-09.pdf
Note encouragement such as "Don't be put off," and "In most cases there are no problems," to encourage students to diversify their study into any disciplines they are interested in.
Taking a detailed look at the first year modules available, there are thirty modules listed as either core or conventional options, from six different departments: Economics, Mathematics, Statistics, Computer Science, Philosophy and Physics as well as the Warwick Business School.
The provision for outside options is extensive and this certainly seems to be the Statistics department's definition of facilitating undergraduate interdisciplinary study. However, this is not the same as students from different disciplines coming together and working together on a project.
There are some examples of interdisciplinary research like this however, that are linked to on the department home page: Complexity and Mathematical Interdisciplinary Research at Warwick (MIRaw).
We should not take any of the department's claims at face value. It is all very well that a high level of collaboration and integration is described, but whether or not this is effective in practice is something that may need to be examined in further detail.
The example of cross-departmental co-operation on the scale of as much as or even more than four different departments as in the case of MORSE, is one that needs to be closely examined as a key example of interdisciplinary study in my opinion.
The Statistics department defines Interdisciplinary study in the most obvious sense, that is the separate study of several different disciplines. It facilitates this predominantly through the MORSE course, which it claims fully integrates study of all four disciplines listed in the title.
There is also, according to the handbook, provision for students to branch out even further and in theory they can study any discipline they wish. The inclusion of Philosophy and Computer Science modules in the list of conventional options could be seen as evidence of a firm commitment to promoting flexibility and student choice.