December 14, 2011

Grad School Reflections: Year 1.5

I am making a habit of writing a summary of each semester of my PhD, not only for posterity, but to shine a bit more transparency onto what the heck I'm doing with my life. Year 0.5 and 1 reflections are posted as Facebook notes, and they will remain there. Here goes year 1.5...

Once again, the grades are entered and my final papers are submitted, signaling the end of the academic semester. But this year, unlike my previous 5-week, leisure-filled holiday, the work does not end. I only took two seminar classes this semester so that I could start writing my research prospectus-- a proposal that has to be approved by my committee before I can do my field research, and a significant stepping-stone towards eventually graduating. So over the holidays, work on my prospectus will resume as I further narrow down my research questions and methods in an iterative process.

My classes this semester were another Environmental Social Science seminar, where we focused on Marxist theories about the environment. I wrote my final paper about the connections between food security and climate change, because there is a good deal of research in this field of "political ecology" that tends to be overlooked by the "hard sciences" that I read about agriculture and climate change. So that was an interesting paper. My other class was a workshop on "Adaptation, Transformation, and Resilience" in the School of Sustainability. With the guidance of two professors, our class of 7 students created a research project to explore the connections between climate change, water scarcity, and cotton farmers in Arizona. I thought this would be a good connection to my work in Michigan, and it was. I learned a lot about the concepts of "resilience" and institutions (policies and social norms that govern the use of social and natural resources). We ended up holding a public forum, where we had four expert panelists who were involved with different aspects of water management and agriculture in Arizona.

I also had a great experience at a big conference in Cleveland last month- I went  to the co-located History of Science Society, Society for Social Studies of Science, and Society for History of Technology conference. I met a lot of interesting grad students and professors, and it confirmed that I am at least on the right disciplinary trajectory.

Back to my research, I've almost certainly decided that I'm going to northwest India to do field research. I will likely be interviewing agricultural scientists, extension workers, and maybe farmers, and also doing some historical work on how climate change as entered different research agendas. It's all still evolving... but I'm fairly certain that I want to be engaged with international development topics, and I feel that going abroad again is important to understand what's happening "on the ground" as well as from a critical academic perspective. What I need to do is narrow down what I'll be focusing on, what information I'm looking for, and how I will interpret it. Also- to find someone who will pay my tuition and travel funds. Easy, right?

So here's to more over-commitments, over-worked and underpaid graduate life, attempting to have a social life, and more bike rides in 2012. Have a happy holidays!

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