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UC Berkeley


About the Major

The ISF Major offers highly-motivated students the unique opportunity to pursue an interdisciplinary undergraduate degree. But what does “interdisciplinary” mean? Disciplines (Economics, English, History, Political Science, Philosophy, and Sociology) are organized bodies of knowledge allowing for specific ways of seeing social reality. The problem is that disciplinary ways of seeing are also forms of blindness. For example, a focus on differences in political opinions might block the question, “Under what social conditions do certain groups of people come to have political opinions at all?” Similarly, a sophisticated explanation of prices may get in the way of asking the question, “Under what conditions do most things come to have a price?” Interdisciplinary questions are questions of these kind. They are a way of shifting perspective; of acknowledging the strengths of disciplinary knowledge, while probing its limits and occlusions. The ISF welcomes students bold enough to engage in these kinds of issues in a rigorous and empirically grounded way.

Students pursue the ISF degree in the context of a Research Field consisting of two elements: a Course of Study (a course program designed with the aid of a faculty adviser), and an originally researched Senior Thesis focused on a significant research problem in the social sciences or the humanities. Courses taken in the social sciences, the humanities, and/or the professional schools and colleges in addition the ISF’s own cross disciplinary methods course (ISF 189) constitute the Course of Study. The Senior Thesis (ISF 190) consists in a 30-40-page piece of original research and is the culminating product of the ISF degree. This website identifies several Research Fields that have been of wide interest to students in the past. It is also possible for students to pursue Research Fields other than those listed on the program website in consultation with ISF faculty and academic advisors. Research Fields should not replicate an existing major. Instead, the proposed Research Field must be interdisciplinary, integrating approaches from at least three academic disciplines (departments or programs).


Students may apply twice a year to the program. Students must consult an ISF faculty adviser in advance of the application deadline to discuss their proposed Research Field. 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 depends 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. They 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.

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 welcomed and encouraged.  Others will be referred to Economics, the Haas Business School Undergraduate Program, or Sociology, as appropriate.

Student applications must indicate a coherent Research Field and must include a manageable and significant research question answerable in a semester’s hard work (ISF 190). Each student’s proposed Research Field 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.