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Athabasca University

About the MA-IS Program


Welcome to the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies (MA-IS).

This Graduate Student Handbook explains how to communicate effectively with the MA-IS office staff, and outlines administrative and program information of special interest to students enrolled in the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies, as well as general services available to Athabasca University graduate students. Please read this Graduate Student Handbook carefully and become familiar with its contents before you begin to work on course materials.

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The most up-to-date information about the MA-IS program and courses will be posted on our Web site.

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Program Administration

The MA-IS office is your first contact for all program and course related issues. Should you have administrative questions (application forms, course registration procedures, fees, course availability, transfers, etc.), please contact the MA-IS Office. You may reach the MA-IS Office by phone at 1-800-788-9041, extension 6792 (toll free from anywhere in Canada and the United States); or by e-mail at

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Why Interdisciplinary Studies?

Since the 1960s, boundaries among traditional disciplines such as Philosophy, History, Anthropology, Literature, Sociology, and Psychology have begun to overlap. Likewise, the rigid distinctions between the Arts and Natural Sciences have softened, and some common ground has emerged. During this time a process of specialization and recombination has generated new areas of inquiry: Women's Studies, Development Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Global Studies, Queer Studies, Labour Studies, Communications, and more. Now it is common to find academics and graduate students working on multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary research in both established areas and newer areas such as Refugee and Immigration Studies, Governance and Global Change, Aboriginal Studies, Canadian Studies, Sustainability, Gerontology, Post-colonialism, and Law and Society.

Funding agencies have increased support for collaborative and applied research projects structured around multidisciplinary teams of researchers. The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) encourages partnerships between university researchers and those working for non-government organizations (NGOs) in an effort to bring the university closer to the community. And, independent research centres such as the Parkland Institute in Edmonton, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Ottawa, and Internet-based solidarity networks are conducting public interest research, which brings together NGO investigators, the lay community, social movements, and academics.

Similarly, employers and professional associations are seeking university graduates with wide ranging educations capable of engaging ideas from various disciplines, critically thinking through situations, and working in teams to solve problems in an age of rapid change.

Offering students choice, flexibility and support, the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies program and its courses engage these trends. MA-IS program faculty members share a teaching philosophy of critical reflection, exploring collaborative thinking, interdisciplinary problem solving, applied research, and the integration of diverse disciplinary knowledge, theories, and methodologies. Students work across disciplinary boundaries and develop problem-solving skills and policy-making strategies. And, the MA-IS program allows students to relate their research to issues in their lives, workplaces, and communities.

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Program Structure

The MA-IS program comprises eleven courses; each worth 3 credits for a total of 33 credits (a minimum of 18 of these credits must be completed through Athabasca University as a residency requirement). Students are required to complete two core courses: MAIS 601 and MAIS 602. Courses in the program may be completed in two modes: a paced Internet study group or self-paced study with support via the Internet. There is no requirement to attend campus.

Depending on students' undergraduate preparation, and after successfully completing the two core courses, they may design their graduate studies either as an independent track or a focus area.

Focus Area

After completing the Core theory and methods courses, (MAIS 601 and MAIS 602), students who choose to study a focus area will complete four courses in a cluster of inquiry and four program electives. More information on available clusters of inquiry can be viewed at

Finally, students will complete their MA-IS studies with either of two forms of the Final Project capstone course: MAIS 700 Group Study Final Project or MAIS 701 Individual Study Final Project.

Independent Track

Students may choose to embark on an independent program of study by completing the project course, MAIS 701 OR MAIS 700, plus eight elective courses from across the program curriculum, woven together in a comprehensive plan of study.

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Transferring Outside Credits

With the permission of the MA-IS Program Director, students may transfer up to 15 credits of graduate study from other universities into the MA-IS program. Typically students are asked to demonstrate how previous work fits into their MA-IS study plans.

Students receiving the maximum number of transfer credits (15) are restricted to the Independent Track route as they will not qualify for a focus area. Students wishing to pursue a focus area will be limited to 12 transfer credits in total. For more detailed information on transferring outside credits, refer to the MA-IS Web site or Contact the MA-IS Office.

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What is Expected of Graduate Students?

Graduate students are expected to read and absorb key books and essays in various fields of study and become familiar with the range of topics and debates in each. In MA-IS, students are especially encouraged to explore knowledge and research occurring between or across disciplines, and to assess the communication occurring between fragmented fields of study. Upon entering the MA-IS program at Athabasca University, graduate students should be able to:

  • discover and select their own resources.
  • conduct independent research.
  • expand and elaborate on course topics.
  • synthesize and integrate theories and methods.
  • synthesize and integrate their own areas of interest with course topics.

To assist Program Students with their writing skills, please see the following links:

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Course Contract

Courses are offered in two delivery modes: "group-paced" and "self-paced," that is, individualized study. The self-paced courses are normally open to students throughout the year, whereas group-paced versions are only available at certain fixed start dates, and may not be offered every year. There are important differences between the course contracts given to students in the group-paced mode and those given to students in the self-paced mode.

Group-paced Mode

The group-paced course follows the timelines associated with a traditional university semester; for example, students who begin the course in September will finish it in December. Students in this version therefore receive a four-month course contract.

Individualized, Self-paced Mode

Students opting for the self-paced course have the flexibility to determine their own timelines for completing it, within their six-month contract period. Nonetheless, they are encouraged to follow the study schedule included in the Course Guide. Students who do so will have no difficulty in completing the course requirements within the six-month contract. However, should a student experience time problems, he or she may purchase an extension to the course contract. Contact the MA-IS Office for more information on extensions.

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Student Finance Board Clients

Please note that full-time students receiving loans through the Student Finance Board will normally receive a four-month contract instead of a six-month contract. This policy is determined by the Student Finance Board, not by the University. Although they are still governed by the regulations for self-study courses, students in this situation should treat the course as a group-paced one, and they should make sure that they follow strictly the study schedule provided in the Course Guide.

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Course Registration

Course registration forms are available online from the MA-IS website. Contact the MA-IS Office for details about registration deadlines for a particular course.

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Updated July 03 2018 by Student & Academic Services

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