Monday, September 2, 2013

Halfway There: Three surprises in my first year

This post originally appeared on Information Space, the blog of the iSchool at Syracuse University, on 12 June 2012.

It’s the end of the beginning for me–with my finals turned in last week, I’ve officially done everything I can to finish out my first year in graduate school! Now it’s time to take a breather, start packing, and head off for a summer in which I’ll be working and learning in three states and two countries.
While I can’t wait for summer, I tend to find the end of an academic year is a great time for reflection. Here’s what surprised me the most:
It’s really hard to be interdisciplinary:
At my undergrad, I was in three radically different departments, and I knew a bunch of other people who were multi-disciplinary as well. Especially when I picked a field as wide-ranging as Library and Information Science, I expected to find a similar mix of people–people who took classes in one building while working in another and hanging out with friends from yet a third field. Here, though, I’m finding that the academic departments are much more focused, especially at the graduate level, and it’s a constant challenge to stay interdisciplinary. It’s worth it, though–I joined a chorus my first week on campus, and through the University Singers I’ve made great friends outside of the iSchool and gotten to know some incredibly passionate, inspiring faculty members. I moved to Syracuse to take advantage of the opportunities afforded by such a large institution–why limit your experience to one building?
Your major doesn’t define you:
Even for those students who spend all of their time in one building, at the graduate level the experiences can vary so wildly, “what’s your major?” won’t tell you much. “What are you interested in?” “What do you study?” and “Where’s your research focus?” are much better questions. Everyone I’ve met so far in the iSchool is more than happy to talk about the things that keep them up at night, and get them out of bed in the morning. Going for a masters, let alone a Ph.D., denotes a level of passion about something that makes for great conversations. Finding out what drives someone is a great starting place to get to know your colleagues.
Books are awesome…but not why I’m here:
Okay, full disclosure: This one wasn’t a total shock, but I still wasn’t quite sure how it would turn out back in September. Don’t get me wrong, books are great. Print books are a tactile experience that’s hard to beat, and long-form born-digital writings have awesome potential–but that’s not my area of interest. I want to connect people to the information they need, whether that info is in a book or on Wikipedia or contained within someone else’s realm of experience. I like knowing how to tweak the tools we use, and the design we see, and I’m starting to learn enough programming to do so! This LIS degree I’m earning will prepare me to do some things with books, for sure, but the list of skills I’ll have that are completely unrelated to books is an order of magnitude larger than the one focused on book-handling. I knew that coming in, but I think some of my classmates were surprised when Professor Lankes suggested that a class in database administration should be required, or when other faculty members recommended learning to code.
You’ll be hearing from me on my travels over the summer. For now, suffice it to say that I’m in a good place–I’m still loving it here in Syracuse, and I can’t wait for the second half of my degree, next year. If you run into me in person and ask what surprised me the most this year, you might get different answers than the ones above, but these were some of the big ones. Next year will be full of surprises on other levels, I’m sure, but it will be an adventure in the best possible sense. I hope you’ll come along for the ride!

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