About the Major

Director : Peter Sahlins
   Director Peter Sahlins

The ISF Major is one of the L&S Undergraduate Studies interdisciplinary majors.  ISF offers highly-motivated students the unique opportunity to undertake a major research project.  Students in the program  develop an individualized cross-disciplinary Research Program that includes a Course of Study, and they undertake original research and write a Senior Thesis. The Course of Study is made up of courses taken in the social sciences, the humanities, and/or the professional schools and colleges. Each student, with the help of a faculty adviser, follows a coherent Course of Study drawing on upper division courses. Students are trained in research methods of different disciplines (ISF 189).  And each student, under the direction of a faculty adviser, produces a 30-40 page Senior Thesis (ISF 190), a sustained inquiry based on original, cross-disciplinary research.

Students accepted into the ISF program pursue Research Programs that formulate and begin to address significant research problems in the social sciences and humanities from an interdisciplinary perspective.  To help students formulate research problems, ISF has identified a number of Interdisciplinary Research Fields that have engendered excellent scholarship and attracted students from across campus.  Research fields are dynamic bodies of knowledge that form and develop through a series of debates articulated around a given set of interdisciplinary topics, research questions, and theories.  Although ISF students may pursue other research fields identified in consultation with ISF faculty and academic advisors, these ISF Research Fields provide models and resources about scholarly interests shared by many ISF students and across campus.  The ISF Research Fields found on this website are here to help ISF students identify their own research interests and customize their own research program and course of study. 


Students may apply twice a year to the program. The next application deadline is Monday, October 1st, 2018, at 5PM.  Students are strongly advised to consult with an ISF faculty adviser well in the advance of the application deadline date. Students who have senior standing (More than 90 units, excluding AP credit) will not be allowed to apply to the major unless they are changing their major or pursuing a double major. The 90-unit maximum does not take into account in-progress units at the time of application. Final acceptance into the major will be contingent on being able to finish the ISF major within L&S change of major and double major guidelines.

Students must complete the prerequisites with a minimum B- grade and may apply to the major as soon as they have finished one of the two prerequisite courses and are enrolled in the second prerequisite course. Students must apply with a well-conceived Research Program, including a proposed course of study and an intellectual justification of their Research Programs. Before submitting an application, students must meet at with an ISF faculty advisor to discuss their program. Research Programs must be interdisciplinary, integrating methodological or theoretical approaches from at least three academic disciplines (departments or programs). Interdisciplinary work can take a variety of forms, but ISF especially welcomes research programs that are firmly grounded in space and time, and that may be comparative, historical, regional, thematic or problem-focused.  The Research Program should not replicate an existing major.

The purpose of the ISF major is to allow undergraduates to combine work across disciplines in courses and with faculty where no other structured program exists. Students will be referred to American Studies if their proposed research topic is strictly American in nature, that is, research into American identity.  Research questions in the social sciences and humanities that deploy data from the U.S. or Bay Area are welcome and encouraged.  Others will be referred to Economics, the Haas Business School Undergraduate Program, or Sociology, as appropriate.  Moreover, the Research Program must be feasible, and the Senior Thesis must answer a manageable research question in a semester's hard work (ISF 190). Each student's proposed Research Program is discussed with and approved by a faculty adviser to assure feasibility, but the final responsibility for the application is the student's.  Students rejected from the major may apply the following semester. 

The ISF Major emphasizes the role of the faculty adviser and the student-adviser relationship.  Students are assigned an advisor upon acceptance into the major, although faculty members outside ISF may serve as advisers when appropriate, as approved by the ISF Director. For more on advising, see the Student Handbook.