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Undergraduates looking for a way to mix physics with their philosophy have a new degree available to them that combines both Arts and Science.
The Bachelor of Arts and Science (BASc) will allow students to use both sides of their brains with a program of study that will combine — and in some respects mix — the two forms of knowledge.
As associate dean (Academic and Student Affairs) for the Faculty of Science, Morton Mendelson was heavily involved in the process that led to the new degree. He said that much of the impetus for the new program came from students who wished to pursue both a BA and a BSc. That interest complemented discussions that were already happening in the university administration.
"Ultimately we decided we weren't interested in supporting a concurrent BA/BSc, but we were more interested in putting together a degree that spanned the two faculties," said Mendelson.
The program is relatively flexible. Students can take a major concentration from each faculty, a major concentration in one faculty and a double minor from the other, or a joint honours component in each faculty.
"Or they can do what we call a faculty program, but which is actually a interfaculty program, which is a 54-credit program that spans the two faculties plus a minor concentration in the other faculty," said Mendelson. An example of this might be cognitive science, which could include courses from philosophy, linguistics, psychology and computer science.
Mendelson's opposite number in the Faculty of Arts, Enrica Quaroni, said that the new program is not going to be used to recruit new students.
"We're not looking at increasing numbers," she said "We're looking to reshuffle students that may be interested in this program."
Quaroni said the new degree sits well with the philosophy her faculty has had for many years.
"The Faculty of Arts, with the multitrack system, looked to give that breadth of knowledge. This is extending this and it indicates that we've tried to integrate knowledge from these areas," she said.
As might be expected, the academic requirements for the new program are different from those of its parent faculties. Students entering the four-year program are required to take at least 21 credits from each faculty.
"In addition to these program requirements, there's a degree requirement to take a new course called BASc201, which focuses on interdisciplinary topics or problems. This course requires students to deal with topics that integrate information across Arts and Science," said Mendelson. This would be a seminar course with a coordinator who would bring in experts on different topics for each class. Proposed topics include "Renaissance Art and Human Anatomy," "Ecological Science and Environmental Ethics" and "The Social Impacts of Computer Technology."
Students are also required to take at least one other course from the seven complementary courses that are interdisciplinary, such as "Economics and Climate Change," or "Medicine, Health and Modern Society."
Since students in the BASc program are not focusing as narrowly on one discipline, the question arises as to what the degree prepares them for.
"It's good for students that aren't fully committed to their interest in Arts or their interest in Science, and who want to pursue their interest in both these areas. It would provide good training for doctors or lawyers, or those who want to go into management. It will give a broad background and will familiarize students with the types of thinking and problem solving that are used in both the Arts and the Sciences," said Mendelson.
Mendelson said that BASc students will not receive the same intensive science background that their BSc peers do at McGill, but that this will not necessarily be a drawback when applying to graduate school.
"They won't have the same depth in science as those who follow a traditional BSc program, but they will have as much science as students coming out of most programs in the States," he said.
The program will provide opportunities for those keen on fields that require a mixed background — art restoration, for instance, which calls upon knowledge of art history and chemistry.
Students already enrolled at McGill and those entering from CEGEP will be able to take the BASc starting in September 2004. Four-year program students will be able to enroll in the program starting September 2005.