Best Wishes to Students Without Boundaries

Originally posted by Rafe on Evolution: This View of Life:

Here is a great introduction to the “Generation Anthropocene” class and project conceived of and taught by a Stanford Geology grad student and taken to whole new levels by the students who joined him.  The class explored the currently hot topic of whether we’ve entered a whole new Geological age, marked by human domination of nearly all Earth system processes.

I learned about this project when I was visiting the now 20 year old Earth Systems program at “The Farm” that I played a small part in starting when I was an undergraduate. Earth Systems was conceived as a way to combine rigorous training in a particular branch of science (biology, geology, and economics were the main offerings when I was there) with a broad interdisciplinary and applied exposure.  I was heartened to see that today’s students in “Esys” and related departments there exemplify what we were just starting back in 1992.  To a student, they were excited to engage in science that had immediate implications, unbounded by disciplines or well-trodden ways of doing things, and a little bit concerned if there was a future role for scientists like them whose main goal in life wasn’t to publish articles in “good journals” (translation: highly disciplinary journals that no one reads but where publication within still seems disproportionately valued by faculty search committees).  Despite these fears, students like Michael Osborne who facilitated the “Generation Anthropocene” class and got Grist magazine (hardly a “good journal” but definitely a great read!) to publish their results, just keep on plugging away.

And my advice to those idealistic students after my own tortured career in interdisciplinary environmental science? First, the landscape has changed in 20 years, and there truly are more opportunities and demand now for interdisciplinary scientists.  Second, you will still be seen as suspect by at least a portion of any search committee, any grant review panel, and probably any tenure panel. Third, and most importantly, you will have a lot more fun than the typical discipline-clad scientist.  Or, as the great Ed Abbey once said, “I promise you this…You will outlive the bastards”.  – Rafe

About Rafe

Rafe Sagarin is a marine ecologist and environmental policy analyst at the University of Arizona. In both his science and policy work, Sagarin connects basic observations of nature to issues of broad societal interest, including conservation biology, protecting public trust resources, and making responses to terrorism and other security threats more adaptable. Dr. Sagarin is a recipient of a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship and has recently published two books, Learning from the Octopus (Basic Books, March 2012) and Observation and Ecology (Island Press, July 2012), which show how nature observation--when extended across large scales and enhanced with both new technologies and greater deference to traditional knowledge sources—is revealing profound new insights about our dynamic social and ecological world. He was a Geological Society of America Congressional Science Fellow in the office of U.S. Representative (and later U.S. Secretary of Labor) Hilda Solis. He has taught ecology and environmental policy at Duke University, California State University Monterey Bay, Stanford University, University of California, Los Angeles and University of Arizona. His research has appeared in Science, Nature, Conservation Biology, Ecological Monographs, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, Foreign Policy, Homeland Security Affairs and other leading journals, magazines, and newspapers. He is the editor, with Terence Taylor of the volume Natural Security: A Darwinian Approach to a Dangerous World (2008, University of California Press).
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