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Master of Science? My First Foray into the Social Sciences

Editor’s Note: Today, we hear from one of our two new student bloggers for our “The Life of an Environmental Studies Student” series. Freddie Harris is a student in the Masters in Leadership for Sustainable Development program at Queen’s University Belfast.

It was the first day of my masters course and I thought I was ready for anything. A Masters of Science in Leadership for Sustainable Development. I’d always enjoyed science-based subjects. The black and white, the right and wrong, the yes and no. It appealed to my no nonsense way of doing things. There was no room for grey. No room for maybe. A wise man once told me, “Sit on the fence and you’ll get splinters.” I believed him.

Sitting down in class at my first lecture, I found it a little odd that I was in the university’s politics department. Granted, the name of the module was “The Politics of Sustainable Development”, but I had assumed it would be all about European Union directives and policy initiatives for the future of sustainability. Tangible quantities that could have been covered in any classroom in the biological sciences department, where our course was based. Then the title slide popped up onto the projector screen:

WHY CARE FOR NATURE? The Ethical and Political Status of Nature”

My heart missed a beat. I’m in the wrong place… I checked my timetable. I quickly looked around me and saw familiar faces from the course induction last week. They were all nodding coherently at the screen, understanding the question and eagerly waiting for the next slide. I was in the right place, but I wished I wasn’t. What had I got myself into? Had I misread the course outline? This wasn’t science at all! How can ‘Nature’ be a political entity in itself? And why would I need to know this?! What followed was a revelation. Metaphysical perspective. Intrinsic values. Deep ecology. I was totally out of my comfort zone.

I was soon to realise that sustainable development is truly one of the most interdisciplinary subjects in the world of academia. Politics, economics, environmental science, statistics and psychology. In the first three months, we have looked at them all. Being the only student in my class of eight with a pure science background, I started out thinking I had an advantage over the others. As it turned out, I had to change the way I looked at things just to get to grips with the first essay assignment: Are Transition Towns the Future of Sustainability? Although I was able to approach it from a fairly scientific point of view, I worried that I was being too practical. When I received my final mark I wasn’t disappointed, but I did wonder if a more theoretical perspective would have earned me a higher grade.

Luckily, I love a good challenge and this has been no exception. From that first, fateful day until this present moment, my perceptions and notions of what exactly sustainable development is have been constantly evolving to cope with the plethora of ideas and information that I have been exposed to.

Freddie Harris is currently studying for a MSc in Leadership for Sustainable Development at Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland. His undergrad is in Tropical Environmental Science. Freddie writes about his current experiences as a sustainability student, giving others an insight into what is perhaps one of the most interdisciplinary subjects out there. He hopes to remain optimistic about the future!

Posted on: January 11, 2011, 9:00 am Category: The Life of an Environmental Studies Student Tagged with: ,

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