Friday, November 14, 2008

Academic Fields

The other night in Prob/Stats, before class, some of the students were discussing graduate school. Specifically, they were talking about whether master's programs in math and/or stats involve writing a thesis. I commented that some do and some do not, from what I've seen, and it partly depends on the purpose of the master's.

"Why would you ever write a thesis in math?" asked one woman. "That's weird."

It made me think about how math isn't what people think it is. When I repeated her question to Ed, he asked, "What, does she think math is a solved problem?" But I don't think it's so much that she thinks everything in math is already known as that her conception of math is probably that it is about learning how to solve different kinds of problems.

A lot of fields are not about what you naively think when you have barely any knowledge of them. Psychology is not, as Sally mentioned, all about why people are crazy (or, alternately, about how to make people like you and do what you want by understanding the inner workings of the mind). History is not about learning the timeline of events. English Lit is, for all I know, probably not about writing papers about how the three rooms in the house in a novel represent the holy trinity or whatever. Computer science is not about learning programming languages (much less, as a coworker once asked me, learning how to use Power Point). Even GIS, which was my major at one point, is not about using software to make maps.

However, I'm pretty sure anthropology is about squatting in the dirt with some unknown natives and keeping a diary about their ways, and paleontology is about carefully excavating big dinosaur fossiles, and archaeology is about looking for ancient cities like Troy. Must be.


Sally said...

Linguistics...that's about grammar, isn't it?

Sally said...

Math is all about numbers.

Debbie said...

I got an entire degree in psychology without studying crazy people except for one unit in my intro class.

Based on what a roommate told me, I think English lit is, in fact, all about guessing/making up things like symbolism. What it's not about is reading for fun.