I’m quickly approaching the end of my college 2.0 experience. At an age where most people are busy advancing their careers or building their families, I decided to spend 2 and a half years taking science classes. The impetus behind this decision was that I always said if I could do it over again, I would go back and get a science degree. I then realized there really wasn’t anything stopping me, so I did.
I’m really amazed at how much I’ve learned in the last 2.5 years. I can’t look back on any period in my life and really say I’ve learned so much in so short a period of time. I started out taking classes in astronomy with the goal of getting a degree in astrophysics. Its still an interesting field of study, but due to the nature of the requirements in the department, I wound up taking classes in the Geology and Geophysics department.
I’m really glad I did.
Earth Science is probably the most interdisciplinary field of science. A quick look at the requirements for getting a degree in the various science fields at Minnesota (or any other college for that matter) will show why:
Mathematicians do not need to take classes in any other department. Physicists need only take math courses in addition to their physics courses.
Chemists need to take math and physics courses in addition to their chemistry courses.
Biologist need to take math, physics and chemistry in addition to biology.
Earth Scientists need to be versed in everything.
This is primarily because earth science is an applied field. In my two and a half years, I took courses which covered: astronomy, biology, chemistry, physics, mathematics, mineralogy, petrology, geochemistry, geochronology, isotope physics, stratigraphy, sedimentology, paleontology, paleomagnetism, cosmology, X-ray diffraction, structural geology, climatology, and oceanography. I’ve also spent close to 2 months in the field.
The department has weekly seminars where speakers come in to talk about research they are working on. At the start, I could understand maybe half of what was being said if I was lucky. Now I can follow along with most presentations with little difficulty and can read many scientific papers (but not all. There are still enough sub-disciplines that some terminology might be foreign, but that’s true with anyone. I know enough of the basics to figure out what I’d need to know if I don’t know something).
From a professional standpoint, an argument might be made that I’ve wasted the last two years, and that argument might be correct. From a personal standpoint, I don’t regret it in the slightest. The question now is, what do I do with it?
I’ve been able to see first hand the frustrations a lot of the grad students in the department are facing trying to finish their PhD. Its hard work, and honestly, I’m amazed that they put up with it. Some of them seem to get beat down over and over by professors and advisors who keep demanding more of them, but never really taking the time to get that involved in helping them get over the last hump.
I’ve heard horror stories of other grad students who have taken on projects, years in the making, only to have funding, data, or other research issues interfere towards the end.
I’m up in the air about continuing my education. I enjoy learning. From a personal satisfaction standpoint, more knowledge will only come through getting deeper in more narrow fields. While I know more than I did before, I now also know what I don’t know and also know how to learn what I need to know. I fear boredom getting too tied down to one subject area.
I’m also not sure that continuing down this path, at my age, would lead to anything fruitful. I can see first hand that science isn’t about geniuses making discoveries out of left field, there is a lot of things at work including dealing with your peers, funding, publishing, and politics.
I guess I’ll have time to figure it out. I think my education will only help me during my trip and might lead to some very interesting updates.