Sat 15 Apr 2006
After several years of uncertainty, frustration, and unforeseen barriers, I've finally decided to stay at the iSchool at Berkeley and get a PhD. I couldn't be happier about it. Fair warning: I am a graduate student with a positive attitude. I do not buy into the graduate student habit of criticizing and bitching about anything and everything under the sun. I do not consider that 'critical' means 'disparaging' and 'superior.' So I feel very good about saying, with a full recognition of the challenges of the department, that the iSchool is a fantastic and exciting place to be. Here's why.
- The iSchool is a truly grassroots interdisciplinary community. You can see it from the fact that there is a sometimes serious tension between the technologists, the social scientists, the business-minded, and the legal scholars. I think it's that tension that makes it exciting – we're not all going to pat each other on the back and say how wonderful our synthetic multi-disciplinary perspective is. We're going to challenge each other, with respect, and force people to justify what they say. And justify it in a way that speaks across disciplines, not within the jargon of a single one. I have a feeling this environment is rare, and it's iSchool up-and-down, which I love.
- The community of teachers, students, and staff is truly wonderful. But the network of involvement goes so much further. Our faculty are generous about both giving of themselves, and bringing the best and the brightest to the iSchool to talk and share. We have relationships all over in industry and academia. We can get John Perry Barlow (almost) Sergey Brin, Vint Cerf, Genevieve Bell, etc. to come give talks. Hell, we can get folks like Mitch Kapor, Paul DuGuid, Geoff Nunberg, and Quentin Hardy to teach classes. Whatever we lack in physical resources – let's fact it, the building isn't great, and we lack some classroom and technical spaces it'd be nice if we had – we make up with people resources.
- iSchool is first and foremost a professional school. There are nearly 4 times as many students in the masters programs as in the doctoral program. Again, some would harp on the tension this creates. But there is always a tension between masters and PhD, especially when it's a professional masters degree. At the iSchool, though, the masters students are like a bottomless well of knowledge and experience. They come from all over. If I need to know about something, I can feel confident that someone knows about it and will be happy to sit down with a beer and tell me about it. Masters students are always working on exciting, cutting edge projects. I will never be a doctoral student who retreats into the back corner of the locked room, never coming out to find out what's going on. I will take advantage of the wonderful community of students who have.
Look, like I said, it's not that there aren't some frustrating things about the iSchool. But it is what you make of it. All the ingredients are there, and for better or worse, if you've got the self-motivation you can kick some ass. If you don't, well, then maybe this isn't the place for you.