Education Bottlenecks: Narrowness, Constraint, or Niche
May 20, 2011
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SF (State University Cafeteria)
Upon enrollment in graduate programs, the student is like a sponge in search for inspirations, ideas that might revolutionize its field of study. The requirement is in fact to write an “original” thesis.
When the pupil exposes for the first time her genius idea to her favorite professor, seasoned eyebrows start twisting and the first words are: “Too broad”, usually followed by either “you should narrow your question down and talk to me again”, or “I want to see you die in the library (or lab), go for it!”. I have yet to witness the latter situation, but I bet there are professors who enjoy their students’ pains.
One field. One subject. One topic. One approach. One facet. The student climbs down the stairs of abstraction and finds out that most of the research on that very original topic has already been carried through. Which translates in the realization that “research” would only mean searching for more information. Sure, there are many who find original solutions to original problems. But time is an overwhelmingly bigger constraint than quality in today’s higher education. Therefore students stick to a subject-related niche that would blind themselves from searching elsewhere. The outcome being usually a thesis reinforcing mainstream theories.
The dirty water absorbed by the sponge was in fact clay and the effort of writing under such circumstances just helped it dry and solidify. Building up a niche for one’s own specialization does not mean to narrow-mindedly pursue a justification for an accurately defined question under the already established constraint of traditional theories. This is the reason why multidisciplinarity is the key for almost all scientific questions, more so when dealing with energy issues, which will be the backbone of this blog.
Numbers need to be substantiated by in-depth knowledge of social and political patterns and not everything can be quantifiable, notwithstanding the current trends in American graduate programs in social sciences. The problem is not “too many PhDs” as The Economist and, more recently, Nature keep yelling, in fact the puzzle is that students look at grad programs as a profession, rather than a vocation.
Such academic trends generate an educational bottleneck, through which numbers on transcripts and standardized tests overshadow the human component and the real scientific relevance of the research question. And leave no room for multidisciplinarity. Do not ask yourself why there are so few Energy Studies programs for which is worth the time to fill in an application.