Resources for Faculty

Interdisciplinary Degrees at the UM Graduate School

The Interdisciplinary Graduate Program provides opportunities for students to tailor their academic degrees to their personal and professional needs through innovation that crosses conventional disciplinary boundaries. The M.I.S. (M.A. and M.S.) and D.I.S. degrees offer formal opportunities collaboration among multiple departments, especially important in areas of new research or areas where we do not currently have existing degrees.

Interdisciplinary faculty collaborate actively with their students to develop meaningful relationships, curricular flexibility and greater integration of knowledge. The process also promotes cooperative learning and increases motivation due to the integration of personalized research goals and individualized plan of study[1].  The collaboration between and among faculty and students leads to better overall integration of new and rapidly changing information, better collegiality and support between faculty and wider comprehension of the connections between disciplines[2].

For information on interdisciplinary degrees, see the Interdisciplinary Programs page.

The M.I.S. and D.I.S. degrees are housed in the Graduate School and do not have a specific department. Thus, the student’s M.I.S. or D.I.S. committee serves as his or her department. The Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs oversees the degrees, and serves in the role of department chair with support from the D.I.S. Admissions Committee, the D.I.S. Oversight Committee, and, when needed, the Dean of the Graduate School. Upon admission into the program, the student’s prospective committee becomes the official acting committee (i.e., the home department). This committee is responsible for directing the student’s program and committing their time and effort to mentor and guide the student through program and degree completion.

Each committee will have a unique composition of faculty from different disciplines who are used to certain expectations for committee work. All committees are strongly urged to meet and define how the committee will work internally, based on the different expertise and roles of the individuals in the interdisciplinary program; joint MTech and UM committees especially are encouraged to have clear delineations of duties. Communicating clear expectation and responsibilities for each member and the student will help build an effective relationship.

The members of the students’ committee are effectively the students’ home department. The Graduate School encourages the home department of the faculty mentors to utilize this opportunity to engage with the interdisciplinary student and benefit from their ability and training to make connections across disciplines and pursue problem-based inquiry. Faculty members are encouraged to start the conversation with their department heads early on about their interdisciplinary students’ research interest and interaction with the mentor’s home department.

Faculty serving in Interdisciplinary graduate committees must clearly understand the program process as articulated in the Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs Prospective Students webpage. Because of the unusual nature of these programs, they carry a number of special admission and programmatic limitations.

The committee chair or co-chairs are responsible for ensuring that a student’s work is ready for committee review and must approve all proposal and thesis/dissertation material before they are circulated to the rest of the committee. However, the internal responsibilities of the committee should be decided by agreement on a case-by-case status. The following are specific responsibilities by the committee that may apply to one or more members:

  • Making arrangements to ensure continuity of supervision when the committee chair or co-chairs will be absent for extended periods (e.g., one month or longer).
  • Providing career and professional advice, and assisting in professional networking.
  • Advising the student about current graduate program requirements, deadlines, sources of funding, etc.
  • Encouraging the student to make presentations of research results within the University and to outside scholarly or professional bodies as appropriate, and assisting the student to obtain funding to attend conferences or professional meetings.
  • The nature of interdisciplinary studies makes all committee members important in advising the student at different stages of the project, but the student should always keep the committee chair or co-chairs equally informed of his or her progress.
  • Remaining accessible to the student on a regular basis for consultation and discussion of the student’s academic progress and professional development.
  • Helping students make appropriate progress by responding in a timely manner to written work submitted by the student with constructive suggestions for improvement and continuation.
  • Helping the student gain access to facilities or research materials.
  • Ensuring that the working environment is safe, healthy and free from harassment, discrimination, and conflict.
  • Working with the student on finding alternative coursework when planned coursework is no longer available.

M.I.S. Application Phase

During the application phase, Faculty are expected to:
  • Help students decide between a 30 credit Thesis option and a 36 credit non-Thesis option;
  • Review GPA, minimum 3.0 required; and GRE, minimum determined by committee; TOEFL, minimum 580 PBT or 237 CBT or 92 iBT;
  • Have at least one meeting with the applicant and the whole committee;
  • Guide students in developing a study plan and fill out the M.I.S. program form - integrated coursework that is a balance among the disciplines represented in the proposed program;
  • Send the M.I.S. program form and the student's Letter of Intent to each department chair of the faculty in the committee. Department chairs need to send a memo to verifying that they are aware of their faculty's involvement in the M.I.S.;
  • Write a letter of recommendation that include include their willingness to work in the interdisciplinary degree and why they recommend the student for a M.I.S.

D.I.S. Application Phase

During the application phase, Faculty is expected to:

  • Help students develop the D.I.S. proposal;
  • Review drafts of the proposal and provide feedback;
  • Have as many meetings necessary with the applicant and the full committee to develop the plan of study;
  • Be present for a meeting with the Director of Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs approximately one month prior to the application deadline;
  • Chair/co-chairs must be present for a meeting with the D.I.S. Admissions committee chair approximately two weeks prior to the application deadline;
  • Write a commitment letter for the applicant. The letters should include a) a statement about the value and rigor of the student's proposal, b) an indication of willingness to participate in the collaborative effort, c) a discussion of their specific areas of expertise, and d) how this expertise strengthens the student’s D.I.S. program of study and dissertation project(s);
  • Provide applicant with a bio sketch for the proposal;
  • Review GPA, minimum 3.0 required; and GRE, minimum determined by committee; TOEFL, minimum 580 PBT or 237 CBT or 92 iBT;
  • Chair/co-chairs will be the principal advisor(s) throughout the program;
  • The committee must fill out the third page of the D.I.S. checklist;
  • Chair or one of the co-chairs must submit the whole application packet to the Director of Interdisciplinary Programs.

Committee member changes

There may be occasions where the composition of a student’s M.I.S. or D.I.S. committee would change due to extenuating circumstances. The student needs to consult with the full committee in those instances and get the committee’s approval. The committee chair or co-chairs would then send a memo to the IGP Director of the change. The committee member change has to be done within the areas identified by the student upon application to the program, as each M.I.S. or D.I.S. student has a unique discipline composition for the degree. In addition, the member who is stepping down needs to send a memo to the IGP Director stating just that; and the new committee member needs to send a memo to the IGP Director stating he or she is filling that position and acknowledges the change from the previous person.

Major, substantive revision to a D.I.S.

If a D.I.S. student makes substantive changes to his or her D.I.S. program (e.g., original research plan, scope of work, timeline, comprehensive examination format, or committee member composition), a formal review and approval process of the revised D.I.S. must occur. The Graduate School (which is the responsible academic unit) must approve of the proposed changes. The procedure can be found in the IGP Student Handbook.


Documents to keep track of mid-degree milestones can be found at the IGP forms page; these are pertinent to students entering as of Spring 16.


There are three exam options for the IGP: the comprehensive exam, the comprehensive portfolio or a hybrid. The graduate student in concert with his or her committee will define the appropriate examination for the degree.

M.I.S. Comprehensive Exam: The M.I.S. comprehensive exam requirement applies only to students enrolled in the 36-credit, non-thesis option. This exam must be completed and assessed on the semester prior to graduation. The student and his or her committee will determine the best format of the comprehensive exam.

D.I.S. Exam: There are three exam formats for the D.I.S. One is the comprehensive exam; the second is the comprehensive exam portfolio; the third is a hybrid between the comprehensive exam and portfolio. These exam formats are described in the student handbook.

  1. The comprehensive examination.
  2. The comprehensive portfolio.
  3. The hybrid comprehensive exam and portfolio.


All M.I.S. students pursuing the thesis option and all D.I.S. students are required to conduct a public thesis/dissertation presentation and oral defense. Prior to formally scheduling the defense, the student must send the final draft to his or her chair or co-chairs for approval and verification that it is defensible. At least two weeks prior to the intended defense date (earlier if possible) the student must send a draft copy of the thesis/dissertation to each member of the committee for review. One copy should also be sent to the Graduate School for formatting approval (contact Mara Baldwin at the Graduate School for more information). The thesis or dissertation must show originality and demonstrate competency in independent scientific inquiry. The student is responsible for sending the Graduate School a notice of the date, time and place for the defense to be published on the IGP webpage and announced to the other M.I.S. and D.I.S. students, if desired.

The IGP director or his/her designee, as a non-voting member of D.I.S. committees, must be included in the scheduling of the defense. The chair or co-chairs of the student’s committee will send an informational email to the IGP Director of the student’s defense results.

The Interdisciplinary Graduate Programs office is responsible for maintaining oversight of all interdisciplinary students, which includes:

  • Performing audits on each students’ file regarding GPA, continuous registration, time to degree, graduation matters, and program changes;
  • The Director participating as a non-voting member of every D.I.S. committee, informed of a full committee meetings, comprehensive exam/portfolio presentations or defenses, and final project defense. The director will be present as his or her schedule allows;
  • Reporting annually to the D.I.S. Oversight Committee;
  • Assisting every M.I.S. and D.I.S. committees with procedures, degree requirements and other needs that may arise between committee and graduate student.

Graduate student progress will be assessed every spring to verify that the student is making acceptable and timely progress toward the completion of the degree. Students will be sent an email with a link for an online survey on the first week of April and they will have two weeks to submit the information requested. This information has to be approved by the IGP student’s chair or co-chairs before final submission; approval will be electronically, chair/co-chairs will receive an email with the information student's submit.

Assessing student progress

The following items will be tracked annually:

  1. Credits earned to-date applicable to graduate program (excluding current spring semester enrolled credits);
  2. Credits currently enrolled for Spring semester;
  3. Comprehensive exam/portfolio completion or anticipated date of completion;
  4. Anticipated date for Thesis or Dissertation defense;
  5. Anticipated date for program completion;
  6. An up-to 500 word abstract describing the project;
  7. A narrative of the progress on the degree in the last year (completing coursework, applying for IRB, finishing exams, collecting or analyzing data, writing thesis or dissertation);
  8. Overview of the student’s latest professional activities in the past 12 months, relevant to the degree.

If any deficiencies are identified, the student will be informed and given one semester to rectify them. Students who do not meet the stated deadlines will be placed on probation the following semester and may become ineligible for TA or RA support, unless the committee approves a revised timeline. If deficiencies remain, a formal meeting of the student’s committee will then be held to determine whether additional conditions need to be set. If deficiencies are sill not rectified by the end of the second semester after being identified, the student will be dropped from the program.


Note: This webpage was created February 2016, revised February 2019. 

[1] Mathison, S. and Freeman, M. (1997) The logic of interdisciplinary studies. Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. Retrieved from the University of Albany website on Dec 8th, 2014.

[2] Idem 1.