Graduate school as vision quest, rumspringa, walkabout, or a 2-year-long Burning Man

Burning Man 2013

It’s been a week since I have formally began graduate school in environmental studies — actually, “formally began” may be a bit of an exaggeration, for I haven’t had any classes yet. I went through the orientation process, met with my advising group and talked about my research interests with my prospective supervisor. However, in this short span, I have realized that the model for graduate education at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) at York, is to say the least, unusual.

Upon recounting the stories of the “interdisciplinary shenanigans” the Faculty not only allows for, but facilitates and encourages, I have been met with awe, disbelief, and apparently a desire to cry and throw up from my friends. It’s been overwhelming, as someone with an engineering background who had to accept the constraints of a structured curriculum to finally accept that, yes, I am indeed free to do whatever I want and that I’m not insane for having really weird research interests (more on that later) and that I am actually encouraged to bring my ideas to fruition.

As such, I have began to describe my graduate program as a vision quest, a rumspringa, or a walkabout (or when I really want to be weird, Burning Man). If one really looks at the aims and structure of the program, this isn’t really far from the truth — but I realize from anecdotal evidence, at the very least, that graduate students get neither the support nor the opportunities for interdisciplinary research that FES does. However, I’m not confident that other graduate programs, should necessarily be as charitable with their expectations, depending on their desired outcomes. That notwithstanding, I believe higher education, both at undergraduate and graduate levels, stands to learn a lot about program organization and student support from FES, regardless of their pragmatic aims — especially considering the age of the people that are largely in said programs, and that their ages correspond roughly to that in which in other cultures one would be expected to go through some spiritual/physical rites of passage that are erroneously seen as obsolete in our culture.


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