The Evidence and Inquiry certificate, similar to a minor, allows students to design a field of study shaped by interests beyond their majors. After taking coursework related to this field, students write a Capstone thesis presenting their work and original conclusions. Once completed, the Evidence and Inquiry certificate is listed on a student's transcript.
Students outside the Polymathic Scholars honors community and the College of Natural Sciences may also apply to pursue the Evidence and Inquiry certificate. Those interested should schedule a meeting with CNS Honors Center Director Sara Corson (firstname.lastname@example.org) before applying.
Foundational Courses (4 hours)
UGS 303: Originality in the Arts and Sciences (or approved substitution)
NSC 109, Topic 4: Polymathic Capstone Field Invention
Capstone Field Courses (12 hours)
A minimum of 12 hours and 4 courses, representing at least 2 academic departments, from the student’s approved Capstone field of study. At least 6 hours must be upper-division.
Capstone Thesis Courses (6 hours)
NSC 323, Topic 1: Polymathic Capstone Thesis Preparation Seminar (fall)
NSC 371: Capstone Thesis Seminar (spring)
Policies & Procedures
- All BSA honors students in the Polymathic Scholars program pursue the Evidence and Inquiry certificate. For others, application for admission and interview are required. Students must apply no later than the end of their third long semester (typically the fall of their sophomore year).
- Minimum of 11 hours must be completed in residence
- All coursework must be completed with a grade of C- or better unless the course is offered only on a pass/fail basis
Designing A Field
Most Polymathic Scholars don’t begin the process of designing a field of study before their second year. The very few exceptions are those who already know in their first year what they’d like to propose, have received permission from their PS academic consultant to proceed, and are anxious to get started. If you’re a freshman who is interested in many things but not ready to begin the process of focusing on one of them, you’re in good company.
At its most basic, designing a field of study consists of two steps: determining a personally compelling, academically defensible, and feasible field (see below), and writing a proposal for faculty review.
In NSC 109, Capstone Field Invention, 15 to 18 Polymaths meet once weekly for 14 weeks. The first six weeks are dedicated to identifying students’ interests, mapping those interests onto academic fields that already exist at UT-Austin, and determining questions related to those interests that might be answerable by research that blends expertise from at least two of those fields. This first seminar unit culminates in each student naming a field of study. In the last eight weeks, the seminar becomes a writing workshop in which students read their field proposal to the group and make oral and written comments on others’ proposals. By the end of the semester, students submit polished proposals online for faculty review.
Each Polymath’s field of study should meet three baseline criteria. It should be
- Personally compelling. The proposal format requires you not only to describe your field but to explain why the field interests you. Your subject should engage you; it should motivate you to try your best to understand it, even if understanding it may prove impossible.
- Academically defensible. A field must constitute a coherent interdisciplinary subject suitable for academic study beyond your major. When it’s used in this way, “field” is a metaphor: just as a physical field is a single, bounded area made up of different kinds of organic material, a PS field is a unified subject made up of knowledge drawn from different academic disciplines. “Music and the Brain” is a coherent interdisciplinary field; “Music and the Nose ” probably is not. Music has an intimate relationship with the former but not the latter (as far as we know). The field must also be suitable for academic study. "Music in American Politics” is; “Music in My Life” isn’t. (What can and can’t be studied in different disciplines is fascinating and complicated. Polymaths will learn how to ask different kinds of productive research questions in UGS 303, Originality in the Arts and Sciences and NSC 109, Capstone Field Invention.)
- Feasible. You must be able to identify at least two faculty members at UT-Austin whose research interests overlap yours, and six courses from at least two different departments that are relevant to your field of study. You must also be qualified to take them. Law School classes, for example, are generally off-limits to undergraduates.
The Field Proposal
Once you’ve found a field of study you’re passionate about, you’re ready to begin writing your proposal. Polymaths enroll in a weekly seminar NSC 109, Topic 4: Polymathic Capstone Field Invention, the last eight weeks of which are dedicated to workshopping proposals with other Polymaths.
The proposal is a short document that consists of four sections. Students are asked to
- describe their intended field of study, indicate some of the questions they hope to investigate, and identify the academic disciplines they think will be useful in answering them;
- explain why they’re interested in the field;
- name two faculty whose research interests are relevant to their field; and
- identify the courses they plan to take and explain their relevance.
Virtually all proposals go through at least three extensive revisions. When the student and the seminar instructor agree that it’s ready, the student will submit the final proposal online. Proposals must earn a satisfactory rating in four areas: 1) merit of the field for academic study, 2) clarity of articulation of the field and the student’s objectives, 3) merit of selected courses, and 4) accuracy of the field’s name. Following submission, the student meets with three members of the program's faculty steering committee to discuss their objectives and solicit further guidance.