Coming up with interesting blog post titles… harder than it sounds. At some point I may have to put more effort into this.
Anyway, I’m only taking one class this semester. I really don’t need to be taking any, but it sounded really interesting and like a good way to explore other realms of science I could be involved in. Now that the first two meetings have passed I’m going to say so far, so good. The class is actually in the School of International Affairs (in the law school building… sooo much nicer than Deike Building but sooo far away!), and it’s called Science & Technology in International Policy. It’s made up of both grad students and undergrads from a bunch of different kinds of fields including nuclear engineering, energy business and/or policy, geography, and health/bioethics. (oh and of course me.)
One thing that I found interesting to think about so far:
Yesterday the professor talked a lot about the differences in cultural and organizational structures in the science realm vs. the policy realm. The overarching theme was that policy is more hierarchical and more committed to constancy and maintaining the status quo, whereas science is more about networking and thus somewhat more egalitarian (he made the point that within any given specialty, there really aren’t many people in the world who study it, so you have to network and there isn’t as much room for hierarchy), and is also more about upending prexisting ideas. These characterizations generally make sense to me, but I feel like he was really idealizing science. Part of what stresses me out and/or what I don’t like about academic/research culture is being intimidated by people with a lot of experience/clout and who command a lot of respect in their field, which doesn’t seem extremely egalitarian to me (the professor also made the point that even undergrads involved in research can end up authoring a published paper, but… I just feel like there are so many other factors that can contribute to this, it’s not like any undergrad in any department or situation can necessarily do it). Similarly, I feel like the culture he described, where people are always trying to challenge the accepted knowledge is definitely ideal and certainly happens but, due to social and “political” forces, doesn’t always happen. Someone who has already made a name for themselves publishing lots of work on a specific idea probably doesn’t have a whole lot of interest in work that proves their idea wrong; and it’s not just an ego thing, it’s a career preservation thing. Likewise, someone just starting out is probably going to have a hard time of it if their ideas run counter to those of their advisor and/or other superiors in their research area.
Maybe I’m being too picky and/or just have the wrong personality and attitude for research (actually I’m already pretty sure the latter is true, which is the whole point of the career exploration phase that inspired this blog), but it does kind of bum me out.