It’s been over a month since I started my graduate studies in the masters program at the Faculty of Environmental Studies (FES) at York University. Before I go on any further with this monologue, I should provide the immediate disclaimer that FES is an extremely non-traditional student-directed academic environment, which recognizes diverse epistemologies and methodologies of research and learning, including but not limited to indigenous worldviews, arts-based practices and generally a constellation of interdisciplinary shenanigans – this is both the strength and the weakness of FES, and many members of the institutions have wildly divergent views on this approach. As such, my graduate school experience is markedly different from those in more traditional graduate programs, and my experience and opinions on it are unique even within its own student body.
A key component of interdisciplinary learning at FES involves the creation of a Plan of Study (POS), in which students identify their core areas of concentration, and are subsequently evaluated on it throughout their time in the program. My interests, broadly speaking, lie in the area of cultural and philosophical implications of ecological technoscience, with a specific focus on Southeast Asian postcolonial ecological technoscience. I am very much informed by my own professional and curricular experiences as a scientist and an engineer, however limited it may have been, and one of my key research methodologies is understanding the everyday practices of scientists and technologists in their workplace. I then situate this knowledge within a framework of epistemology, from where I seek to understand the emerging human relationships with the environment as mediated by the ecological sciences.
So, much of this, hypothetically involves talking to scientists and engineers, and understanding how they conceptualize the environment. I do this by involving my own network of friends and colleagues in the STEM fields, as well, by attending meetings, conferences, and the like aimed at those demographics. As such, while STEM practitioners come to these events for professional and networking purposes, I am there largely for ethnographic ones. In the few conversations I have had with scientists and technologists, I have been met largely with skepticism about the utilitarian applications of my research, whereas some have praised me building a bridge between STEM practitioners and the rest of society.
My problem, obviously, remains with the former group, who seem to embody the current Canadian government’s preoccupation with cutting funding to sciences that are not inherently linked to immediate tangible innovative results, without understanding that if fundamental science cannot flourish, there is no driving fuel for innovation. I suppose when one is working within the limits of this bureaucracy, it is difficult to escape this mindset, however, it comes at an overarching costs not only to abstract research-oriented people-watchers such as myself in scientific gatherings, but the scientific establishment itself.
How then, faced with major obstacles to fundamental science, can we encourage scientists and technologists to be playful and imaginative within their careers? I, of course, have my own stake in this, because I would like to engage scientists in relatively philosophical conversations that they don’t feel like they are “wasting time” on, but I do believe there is an added benefit to the scientists themselves in this proposed paradigm shift.