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Finding connections: An essential shift in learning approaches

Diploma Programme (DP) graduate Mariam Vahradyan outlines the benefits of interdisciplinary learning and shares why it’s important to find connections between different disciplines. This is her first story in our graduate voices series.

Finding connections: An essential shift in learning approaches
Mariam performing “Kaspar” at Skidmore College / Credits: Paris Baillie

By Mariam Vahradyan 

I yawned in my chemistry class once, naively thinking it was inconspicuous, and to my horror, my teacher caught sight of it. “That’s my sign to quit”, he proclaimed and turned back around to change the color of our Activboard digital pen.

I’m tempted to blame my schoolwork-induced lack of sleep but quite honestly, the bond between organic chemistry and my brain was as covalent as it gets.

Throughout my pedagogical career, I’ve been privileged to have been taught by passionate and charismatic educators with access to various resources and mentors for guidance and support.  However, as I moved from classroom to classroom I found that the topics I learned about existed in learning vacuums. I enjoyed watching a film about a fishing community in Arembepe, Brazil in my anthropology course but later had to endure hours of crafting truth tables in my quad-ruled notebooks.

I felt as if every teacher cared strictly about their subject and I was struggling to figure out how to connect them to one another. “Why would you want to connect them?” you may ask. Well, without finding overlapping themes and ideas across the subjects, I found that stimulating conversations were left off the table and my understanding of these topics remained insular. During my college years, I had requirements to fulfill and was encouraged to choose my major by the end of my first year. How was I supposed to take the leap from scribbling truth tables to declaring the discipline I wanted to commit to for four years? Once a major was declared, if felt as if all other paths for exploration were blocked off.

“Declaring a major simply becomes a signature on a paper that shows your interest in a discipline without eliminating possibilities for learning in other spaces”.

This disjointed approach to learning stems from an outlook that limits us later in our careers. I recall grinning to myself in a dark blackbox theater when I was working on an experimental play and had incorporated a pulley system into the production.  Here I was, in a college production, building a pulley that I had begrudgingly calculated its mechanical advantage using my knowledge from IB physics. Why was it so exciting to me, and did anyone else care that without physics, this entire contraption would have collapsed already?

The answer is most likely that no—no one did care about the overlap of the disciplines. And yet I noticed that when I absorbed the world through this interdisciplinary lens, ideas and subjects clicked and complemented one another in a way they had not previously done so. Suddenly, the scientific method in a statistics course became a gateway for conversations regarding a friend’s journalism project and how leading questions are like fumbling around with your data in an experiment.

Finding the connections between these disciplines may seem daunting because it leads to always looking for holes and gaps to fill. It means that you’re never quite satisfied with what you know because there’s always another empirical paper to read, another documentary to watch or another art exhibit to visit. However, its crucial for being a lifelong and well-rounded learner. It means that when you choose a career, your day doesn’t end when you close your email. It’s taken some time to find ways to continue expanding my neural networks after 5pm on a long workday, but if you shift your mindset from seeing school or your career and other interests as separate entities, instead of intertwined and dynamic parts of your life that you can continue to expand on, you’ll find yourself shifting your own pedagogical paradigms. Outside of work, I’ve also been able to attend psychology conferences to present published research and even develop my passion for street photography. While all of these may seem like distinct interests, no one specific discipline or project in my life is more important or valuable than the other, since they all connect and encourage personal growth.

A history teacher once chuckled to herself in front of my classroom and confessed, “It’s hard to not think that the entire world revolves around history!” Personally, it’s hard to think that the entire world would revolve solely around any one subject at all! While we need to focus on topics and projects that compel us most, we always need to look for connections within our interests to find what works best for us and what can help answer our questions. The reality is that these disciplines don’t have clear boundaries and never have. To deny this is to deny the essence of how the world works. A reason why many, “experts”, in various fields struggle to answer questions is because they’re only turning to their own discipline for help. By zooming out, the answers may just appear naturally. This can be freeing if you embrace it. When you accept that you can have a corporate job in children’s publishing and get a license in teaching yoga, you allow yourself to grow continuously. Declaring a major simply becomes a signature on a paper that shows your interest in a discipline without eliminating possibilities for learning in other spaces. This mindset shift is essential in leading a curious life by keeping an active brain that is always looking for ties and finds amusement by a pulley system in a blackbox theater.

Finding Connections: An Essential Shift in Learning Approaches

Mariam Vahradyan is an IB graduate from the United Nations International School in New York City. After the IB, she pursued a psychology degree at Skidmore College and is now a merchandiser for children’s literature at Scholastic. Her published works focus on the transformative power of storytelling and identity development.  Mariam enjoys reading books out loud to kids in classrooms (and online) and shoots film photography.  You can connect with her on LinkedIn here

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, Instagram and YouTube!

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