I want to develop a strong technical background in environmental issues, but don't want to leave the social sciences - my first passion and the thing in which I know I have actual talent - behind. What are some grad programs that will suit me?
I am a semi-recent college graduate ('06) with a degree in cultural anthropology, and I've spent now going on 2 years working for a hurricane relief and community development nonprofit in the Gulf Coast. During that time, I've developed a strong interest in certain admittedly diverse environmental issues - wetlands ecology, water resources management, food sustainability, environmental justice - the common thread between them being that they all figure prominently in the work that is being done in my community.
I have also developed a fascination for the technical side of things, which I've never had before - I would love to have the know-how for making or evaluating concrete project plans (for example, green building initiatives or a small urban agriculture concern, or a coastal restoration project - I haven't decided which technical area appeals to me most just yet). At the same time, I'm not satisfied unless I have a chance to think about the social impacts, policy implications, and economic challenges of a particular project. My work has brought me into constant contact with situations where "the science and the social" have to be considered together, and I have become super-passionate about becoming the sort of person who is well versed in both dimensions. "Whole systems thinking," I've heard it called, and that sounds all right to me.
So now I'm searching for a graduate program that will allow me to develop that dual expertise. I'm looking for environmental science programs that tout their "interdisciplinarity," not fully knowing whether that's just an academic fad that will leave me not quite specialized enough to do anything at all, or whether the eco-careers world will think it as valuable as I do.
There are several things I could see myself doing with that kind of training - going into policy analysis, translating scientific research information for policymakers, or being a consultant for sustainable design projects (I'd especially love to work in a "developing" country context). I'm open to suggestions on this front as well.
Are there grad programs you all might recommend that you think would be a good fit for me? I'm pretty taken with the Earth Institute at Columbia
and the Nelson Institute at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
, and am looking for others that come close to these in terms of the breadth of options/concentrations, integration of different departments, etc.
My sub-question, I guess, would be that I completely lack a natural science background. I haven't taken a science or math course since high school. Am I looking at a potential extra year (or more?) of remedial work in community college to increase my chances of getting into a program with any kind of natural science component at all?
Thanks for the help and for any related suggestions!