It’s high time I should be actively preparing for my Transfer of Status document. Although I AM, I feel I should be doing more. A number of conversations with my friends have led me to think I may be committing an act of disciplinary treason. I started off as an Environmentalist, focusing on environmental health issues. I joined this particular program because I found the perfect supervisor to work with. The department is incredibly interdisciplinary and you can find people of all backgrounds here.
But no matter what I do or think to rationalize my own approach to the subject, I have a nagging feeling at the back of my mind that by trying to exist in the murky zone beyond physical and human geography and environmental studies, I must be doing something wrong. Books and articles discussing the fragmentation of geography and whether or not it’s good for the discipline have only reinforced it. It doesn’t matter which approach I will take for my dissertation, which case study or specific theme I will use to defend my ideas, I cannot identify with one discipline.
It may stem from my initial foray into looking for a field of specialization when I was applying for my undergraduate degree, where I looked for programs ranging from logic to engineering to conservation to geophysics. My primary reason for joining an environmental sciences program was that I got to do everything I wanted to. I sometimes wonder if that was a poor decision on my part. Maybe I should have specialized in something. I avoided that chance again for my Masters when I chose Penn for their program flexibility. I worked with two different departments for my thesis while being based in another. I don’t regret a minute of it.
I know I have a better chance of talking across fields with other people, with collaborating with them on different ideas. But do I identify myself as an environmentalist? A geographer? It is very very tempting to do so, but I simply cannot at this stage. I am being tested for my research skills. I do not know for sure. Do I even want to fit into a neat category for professional definition?
But while I think about the greater meanings of self definition in a professional and academic world, I will continue to explore the different aspects of multidisciplinary and systems thinking and see how it might contribute to the field(s). Why should only geographers know the joys of geography? Why should only environmentalists know the feeling of reading across disciplines to support their arguments? The era of specialization has passed. If there is ever to be any sense of solution to the wicked real world problems, it starts with a coherent understanding of the great melting pot of expertise.