Help me take control of my education! Law, cognitive science...
September 16, 2009 5:27 AM   Subscribe

Help me take control of my education! Law, cognitive science...

Hi! Long time reader, first time asker. I'm 22, Irish and have studied up to now Law and German as an undergraduate. I've just had a pretty rough experience during a year abroad in Germany, the net result of which is that I have to repeat a year back home.

That has to do with some unrelated personal issues, which I'm dealing with now (finally...!), but it was made a lot worse by the feeling I'm losing control of my education.

Ok, so I chose to study law, against the advice of my parents who thought I'd be more philosophically or linguistically inclined. At the most anxious point over the past year I thought about packing it all in and starting again with computational linguistics.

That's getting at where I want to go, but I then don't want to abandon law totally.
I think the law/computational linguistics choice represents two sides of what I'm ultimately trying to get at - the nature of argumentation, and its implications/uses.

I don't want to abandon law totally... It's just I don't want to study 'just' law...

Further, I have, with little consistency, tried to learn in my spare time (for 'learn,' replace: reading a few popular science books), about persuasion, linguistics, jurisprudence, cognitive science, rhetoric, logic, economics, psychology, yadda yadda. The whole learning on my own gambit worked in the past, especially with languages, but I was studying those languages at school, working towards exams, learning on my own because class was boring. Now there's no structure to my self-directed learning, and no goal in sight.

It feels like I'm trying to do it backwards - if I was in America I'd study liberal arts first, with all those cool things like cog sci, lingusitics, languages; satisfy my curiosity, and then go on to law school...

So do I try and quell my dillettante-ish quest to learn everything to do with language and logic, and just get on with studying law?
Do I try and satisfy my lust for learning and keep on with studying those things at home, with little to show for it?
Or is there a post-graduate programme or field of studies I'm overlooking? I'm thinking of something like Symbolic Systems at Stanford (which seems more undergrad orientated) Would anyone even take me?

I'd love to do like Joseph Campbell and spend 5 years reading intensively in a shed in the wilderness, but I'm dealing with anxiety/add issues; I really think I'd fall apart without more structure and short term goals...

Thanks if you've read all of this! I'm driving myself crazy trying to tie these things together in some kind of coherent, worthwhile sense. Part of this is definitely me upset that *maybe* I'm not as smart and successful as I imagined myself to be, but I think I could do well if I got reenchanted by education. I could also just try and get by in the real world, but education does mean a lot to me.

Bonus points if you can suggest cool futuristic fields of study, and how to get at them - you know, neural networks, ontologies, natural language programming (all this stuff has to have links with law) - I'd even like to try programming, but as alluded to, I don't think I could do it on my own; I'd need structure: it would just become one more thing amongst all the other cool learning vying for attention. I'd prob start, then drop it after being distracted by a shiny penny and deciding numismatics is what I *really* want to study..

posted by macg02 to Education (4 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hey there,

I did my undergraduate and graduate degrees in Symbolic Systems and think it's a great fit for the interests you describe. There's a recently-created (in the last 8 years or so) Master's program, which also opened up to people who didn't do their undergrad at Stanford a couple years ago. As part of your MS, you'd have to take about a year of classes to satisfy the background requirements, but they'd be in cogsci/linguistics/computer science, all of which you sound interested in.

A major part of the Master's is writing a research thesis, and I'm sure you could work Law into your research if you were so inclined.

Feel free to MeFi Mail me if you have any other Stanford/SymSys questions.
posted by mikeyk at 5:53 AM on September 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's "interesting" that your parents want you to study the less immediately practical subjects like philosophy while you went for law which is a field which allows one to get hired somewhere. Usually, it's the other way around.

If you just want to learn what interests you and don't have any practical goals, what could be wrong with a structureless following of what attracts you? What exactly is it about structure that makes you want to have more of it?
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:50 AM on September 16, 2009

Look into the career outlook in whatever particular field you choose. Lawyering right now isn't faring too well - in the U.S. at least, and probably in the Europe as well. Might pick up in a few years, though. Just wanted to add that as a counterpoint to Obscure Reference's idea, because to me a computational linguistics degree and similar degrees would provide a good foundation for a career you're interested in, whereas there are a lot of newly minted lawyers out there for a lot fewer jobs than there were a couple of years ago.
posted by lorrer at 8:32 AM on September 16, 2009

Response by poster: Obscure Reference, it's not that I have no practical goals at all, it's just that I'd like to have that warm feeling of learning something and (hopefully) excelling in it before I go down that path. Law hasn't given me that, so far. The shed thing was a bit of a joke. I'm afraid I'd get (more) isolated, come back after the five years with a beard and a unified theory of everything (incorporating time cubes)...

lorrer, I've definitely read about comp. linguistics being a field with good prospects. Maybe biting the bullet and doing a second degree would be the way to go, only I think some form of graduate studies would make it more coherent and seem less like I'm a lawyer who got cold feet.

Anyway, thanks for the answers. I think asking the question was almost as much as answering it. I'll try and talk to some comp. linguists in college and see what they think.
posted by macg02 at 5:30 AM on September 17, 2009

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