Alphabet Soup
USC serves up a graduate gumbo of new interdisciplinary degrees. Mmm. Mmm. Good.
Remember when universities awarded degrees in plain-vanilla subjects like French, math or biology? While those kinds of programs remain USC’s meat and potatoes, an alphabet soup of interdisciplinary degrees – in new-fangled fields like “computational linguistics” – is bubbling over at the College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Marshall School of Business, with ties to the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the School of Engineering.
“Experts who can tackle the world’s tough problems will need training that cuts across traditional academic disciplines,” says provost Lloyd Armstrong Jr., explaining the profusion of new degrees. “With our strengths in graduate and professional education, we’re in a unique position to cross-fertilize and create vibrant new interdisciplinary programs.”
Like computational linguistics, which – in case you hadn’t heard – uses techniques from math and computer science to analyze natural language and detect relationships between tongues. Experts in this niche develop computer algorithms to manipulate, summarize or translate texts and utterances. The new master’s program builds upon established USC strengths in the college’s top-ranked Department of Linguistics and the engineering school’s respected Department of Computer Science and its one-of-a-kind Information Sciences Institute – home of the Natural Language Processing Project.


The master's
in computational linguistics is one of four new degrees developed with funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Another, also beginning this fall, is a master’s in computational biology. Experts in this field use mathematical techniques to decode the messages found in the DNA and RNA of living organisms. USC already has a solid reputation in this specialty with its Center for Computational and Experimental Genomics. Program faculty are drawn from the college’s natural scientists, mathematicians and molecular biologists, and from the engineering school’s computer scientists.
This fall, the university also admitted its first crop of students in the master’s in physics for business appli-cations program. Offered jointly by the college’s De-partment of Physics and Astronomy and the Marshall School, this two-year professional degree is one of the first of its kind in America. It responds to industry’s growing demand for managers who combine deep scientific knowledge with business acumen.
To fill another niche, next year USC is launching a master’s in environmental science and technology program that will help prepare a cadre of experts in pollution abatement and resource conservation. The program builds on existing strengths: the popular interdisciplinary program in environmental studies, the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies and the School of Engineering’s environmental engineering program.

Meanwhile, at the
Health Sciences Campus, USC has begun preparing multi-faceted doctors versed in both the physical and the fiscal side of their profession. Starting this fall, the Keck School of Medicine and the Marshall School of Business are teaming up to offer an MD/ MBA program – one of the few such combined degrees in existence. Students in the joint program will be able to complete their education in five years.
Alumni of the MD/MBA program, organizers say, will be uniquely qualified to fill leadership roles in a managed-care environment where the health impact of every business decision must be balanced with its impact on management, budgets and resource allocation.




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Illustration by Michael Klein

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