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Interdisciplinarity and ingenuity

Each year we invite IB alumni to share their experiences, interests and advice with our global community in the graduate voices series. We welcome Diploma Programme (DP) graduate of Semiahmoo Secondary School, Canada, Elise Burgert, who shares the value of interdisciplinary education and how it strengthened the skills she uses in her career. 

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By Elise Burgert

“I can think of nothing more empowering for a mind than to learn outside of a tunnel.”

As a 2016 graduate of the IB Diploma Programme (DP), I have come to appreciate many different components of the programme as I begin to take on the world in university and beyond. One aspect of the program whose value cannot be overstated, I think, is interdisciplinarity. In this piece I would like to explain its value to intelligent decision making and ingenuity.

The way I have come to believe this begins with my story. As a student I have always enjoyed studying a great number of topics. Upon entering university, however, one is asked to drastically narrow their focus to a single major. I chose a school that offers joint majors between faculties and decided to make my major Sustainable Business: a joint major between Business Administration and Environment. This degree attracted me because there is some intrigue, I think, in balancing these. While there are some business cases for sustainability, in some cases they are at odds. And often, at least in North America, governments are ineffective at managing resource extraction sustainability or ensuring corporations do not rely on market failures such as environmental externalities to maintain their operations. That being said, the world needs a healthy environment and as humans we need businesses.

“The ability to hear different points of view, not because of some notion of idealized respect, but because you genuinely understand them, is one of empathy.”

By choosing this degree, I have noticed a curious evolution in my understanding. While at first it was somewhat confusing to be learning two completely different spheres of knowledge, as I near graduation I find myself in an entirely different situation. I am becoming fluent in two academic languages.

The first, the language of business: when I speak to finance professionals, I understand more than their words: I understand their thought processes. When I have an idea, a corresponding business plan forms in my mind.

The second, the language of our environment: I see how ecosystems function and have come to intuitively grasp what is sustainable and what is exploitative. I have a respect for economics and a respect for the natural sciences, both powerful paradigms.

What happened? I think that by choosing to dedicate my studies to two different, and often considered contradictory, ideologies, I internalized them both. And now my strength in business is my understanding of the environment and what sustainability is on a genuine level. My strength in environment is my understanding of business, the incredibly powerful forces of capitalism that, more or less, runs our world.

I can think of nothing more empowering for a mind than to learn outside of a tunnel. Innovation, ingenuity and creativity all spawn from seeing more than what everyone else thinks is in front of you. The ability to hear different points of view, not because of some notion of idealized respect, but because you genuinely understand them, is one of empathy.

I applaud the DP for teaching its students such a well-rounded curriculum. A student in the sciences should not back-burner literature, and a student in geography should not neglect her studies of mathematics. It is the understanding of all of these things at the same time that produces balanced outcomes. My own story in serious academic exploration definitely began in the DP, and I hope it sees no end.

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Elise Burgert finished the IB diploma in Vancouver, Canada, in 2016. She now studies Sustainable Business at SFU and intends to study law after finishing her first degree. Her career goal is to find and implement creative solutions for creating a sustainable and equitable world. In her spare time, she organizes outdoor adventures, writes novels or thinks.

To hear more from Diploma Programme (DP) graduates check out these IB programme stories. If you are an IB grad and want to share your story, write to us at We appreciate your support in sharing IB stories and invite you to connect with us on LinkedIn, Twitter and now Instagram!

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