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LIB 151 Week 7 Module: Ways of Knowing (Spring 2021)

Created by Carolyn Caffrey Gardner and adapted by Tessa Withorn with permission at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Academic Disciplines

In college, your research process will look different depending on the subjects, methods, and kinds of evidence that are accepted in your particular major or academic discipline. 

Academic disciplines can be grouped into various categories, such as broad fields of study or particular academic schools or programs. At CSUDH, we have various colleges and programs or majors within that college. 

Researchers from different disciplines might look for new knowledge or solutions to same problem through a different lens. For example, let's say all the colleges at CSUDH are research the same topic of renewable energy. They might ask different questions, such as: 

  • College of Arts & Humanities (Africana Studies): How does environmental damage from nonrenewable resource extraction intersect with legacies of racism?
  • College of Business Administration and Public Policy (Economics): Which renewable resources offer economically feasible solutions to energy issues?
  • College of Education (Teacher Education): Why is it important to teach renewable energy in K-12 education and how can you bring the concept into a lesson plan? 
  • College of Health, Human Services, & Nursing (Public Health): What are the health benefits of low carbon energy energy policies? 
  • College of Natural and Behavioral Sciences (Political Science): Which US federal policies would increase the use of renewable natural resources?

Different disciplines also collect different types of evidence and use different methods to collect evidence and conduct research. Consider the following circle of professors. They are all asking their students to conduct research in a variety of ways using a variety of sources.

image of different professors asking research questions

Image Credit: SUNY Jefferson Community College, "Exploring Academic Disciplines," College Writing Handbook is licensed under the public domain

Regardless of the discipline or major you choose to pursue, you will be arriving as an apprentice in the middle of an ongoing conversation. Disciplines have complicated histories, and you can’t be expected to master an academic discipline overnight.

Learning to recognize the disciplinary approach or perspective can help you make sense of the specific issues, themes, topics, and controversies you will encounter as a student and as a professional.