Where to heretics go to grad school?
April 14, 2012 3:43 PM Subscribe
I need recommendations on a PhD program in ecology/conservation biology/interdisciplinary studies. I am a biology student who has strong nontraditional interests in cross-disciplinary work, popularization of science (i.e. making science relevant to non-science people), creating social and political change, and examining the relationships between humans and the biosphere from a holistic, non-anthropocentric perspective. Any ideas?
posted by Scientist to Education (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm coming up to that part of my undergraduate career where I need to be seriously building a list of graduate programs that I want to apply to. However, I'm at a bit of a loss. My problem is that while I have a passion for biology, ecology, and (most specifically) conservation science, I really want to create a career for myself which takes a rather broader, more holistic view of science than what I would be likely to get at any given good ecology program. I'm not going to get into a philosophical argument about the role of science here, but for the sake of explanation here's a little bit about what I want to do.
What I'm looking for, I think, is a PhD program in conservation biology or a related, possibly interdisciplinary, field. (I'm not overly worried about what specific category I fit into, but biology/ecology is where I'm coming from at this point.) In addition to doing the typical work of conservation science -- figuring out relationships between humans and the rest of the biosphere, and trying to find some potential solutions toward mitigating the damage to the biosphere that we're causing -- I also want to take an activist, advocate role in expanding the relevancy of science. I want to work toward improving popular understanding and regard of the sciences, making science more reactive and relevant to society, improving scientific ethics and making a place for activism and conscience-directed research, building bridges between materialistic and holistic worldviews, and using scientific research as an effective vehicle for rational policy and political change.
I know that this is not something that most scientists -- even conservation biologists -- are really super interested in doing. I know that it's a path that many scientists consider not just non-traditional, but actually wrongheaded and potentially dangerous. If you happen to be one of those people you're welcome to talk with me about it through MeMail (it's a debate that I enjoy having) but what I'm looking for right here is for recommendations on PhD programs where I would be welcome to explore this stuff, and where I can work under a mentor or mentors who is/are already doing work in at least some of these areas. It's a complicated calling and I don't really have a great way of labeling it, which I think is part of the reason why I've had difficulty finding programs that suit me.
The other part, I think, is just that there aren't terribly many people doing this sort of thing, and those who are doing it tend not to advertise it super loudly unless they are rockstars in their field who are immune to the kind of censure that often falls upon ecologists who want to take their work out of the lab and into the world. Surely, though, there are some. It's a big academic world (despite feeling very small at times) and I know there are a lot of people doing some very weird and unusual things in the spaces between the traditional disciplines. I really want to know who those people are so that I can approach them about becoming their student.
I'm also open to pathways that are less-traditional than a four-year PhD program. I really am in a place where I'd like to be making a little bit of money and the idea of a graduate fellowship is super attractive to me, but if there's some other way that I can do studies/work that would put me on the path that I've chosen for myself then I'm definitely open to hearing about it -- especially if there's a large component of fieldwork/outdoor work involved, because I absolutely love that stuff. As long as I can make some kind of modest living doing it, I'm down -- I'm not really financially motivated except inasmuch as I'm not independently wealthy and need to be able to pay rent and feed myself.
Right now I'm not really worried too much about location or about my qualifications, although I'll certainly be using those as criteria to weed out programs if I can get a large enough list together that I don't want to just apply to them all. For the moment I'm really just looking for programs that suit my interests. I know there are a lot of MeFites out there working both in the sciences and in myriad related fields, and I'm hoping that somebody somewhere has bumped into someone that I might click with as a student. I'm really looking forward to hearing about it. Thanks in advance for the advice, and please let me know if there is anything that I need to clarify or anything that I'm not seeing that I need to make myself aware of.