November 12, 2009

Grad School Visits

Just returned home from a trek out west. First stop, visit my sister and her family, including new niece Phoenix.

Second stop, head to California to visit the Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS) and University of California, Santa Barbara Bren School of Environmental Science & Management (Bren). Here's how they stacked up. Wish I could do this in columns, that would be rad.

1. Both had murals of marine life.

Santa Barbara

2. Both were located on the coast of beautiful California

Santa Barbara

3. Both offer really excellent extracurricular speakers/lectures

"The global scourge of armed violence: Can anything be done?"
Communication through Technology
"Nuclear Power: One Envirornmentalist's Perspective"
"Managing our oceans: Recent national and international incentive to conserve marine ecosystems"


No Impact Man (Film)
Michael Specter "Denialism-How irrational thinking hinders scientific progress, harms the planet, and threatens our lives"
Earth Days (Film)
Philippe Petit, Man on Wire (Film)

Okay, that was to satisfy your visual comparison desires. But seriously, how did they stack up? Let's just say, I'm super excited to go to either school. Impressions:

*Extremely international student body. Over 50 languages spoken amongst the <1000 students. What I like about this is the broader experience amongst teachers and peers. You become familiar with more points of view, thereby gaining greater ability to build bridges to actually make changes in the world.
*Students repeatedly said that they felt like they had always had a nebulous idea about the ideas that they wanted to mix together (ie business with social activism, or economics and environmentalism, etc), and finally these ideas came together to form something solid, leading to their dream job.
*Peace Corps and Fulbright scholars amongst the student body in large numbers. I have a feeling this will lend a similar atmostphere as the Gaines Fellowship did for me in undergrad,,,my favorite school situation so far, aside from Montessori elementary school.
*Professors are not pushed to publish papers constantly. They do publish, and well, but they are also congratualated for the hands-on work they do. I think this more hands-on mentorship will suit me well. I want to make sure I can be active in the field when I graduate. Seeing my mentors being active gives me strength and courage that I will be able to achieve that.
*Marine ecology/management is stronger here than most programs, where terrestrial environmental issues are the norm to study. With my background in sailing, I feel I have a particular bent and responsibility to steward the oceans.
*The degree is called "Masters in International Environmental Policy". When asked what is international about the program, the answer is that it can be as international (aka you can travel abroad) as much as you want to make it, but basically, the environmental problems facing us in this world are international problems. I like this broad view! The policy covered is not USA policy specific/centric.
*MIIS only offers Masters degrees. Which means that students don't compete with Ph. D. students or undergraduates for attention from their professors. From another point of view, the professors are there to help turn out capable professional (as opposed to academic) graduates.
*Despite the classes offered being cutting edge, the students (miraculously!) say they don't ever feel like guinea pigs as they learn. (This elicited a choked-up throat and a tear in my eye when I visited. I always felt like a guinea pig @ Tufts).
*The students say they learn something and then put it to practice (as opposed to learning something then being tested on it, then practicing it after they graduate in the workplace). Hence, employers that know about MIIS, say that the students from MIIS ALWAYS out perform students from other schools in their first few years in employment. I am ready to hit the ground running when I graduate, I'll've been in grad school for EVER. And the prospect of more projects over more exams is enormously exciting to me.
*The school's motto is "Be the change".

*The location is mind-bogglingly beautiful. Like, you can't believe that place exists, let alone that there's a prospect of studying there for your choice program.
*Large, state university means that the availability of resources like arts/lectures runs deep. Similarly, the marine laboratory facility is located next door, should I find that I need to take classes there, or get myself embedded in that in any way.
*The program is very academically stringent. I am used to this, and given my recent history, I feel a bit shy from this way to go, but I also see the inherent strength of a program like this. I know that my personality and ideas can be really, shall we say, "creative" at times...and having a program like this might be grounding, and help to make me more versatile in a more cookie cutter world. Wow, that sounds really pejorative, but I mean it in a positive way. Like, I realize I have faults and this program might balance those traits to some degree.
*they offer GIS training. I have to check and see if MIIS offers that. (Global Infomation Systems. a mapping method)
*The student body seems very outdoorsy. I sat in on one class, and everyone looked like they were dressed to go on a hike. Two women from the environmental office at Patagonia lectured. It was rad.
*The school's motto is "Become the change". Which is very similar to MIIS's motto, but implies that you will be the change later than now. Semantics (o:
*The program I am looking at is the "Masters in Environmental Science and Management" which is recognized as one of the top schools in this arena. But there are only like 5 schools in this arena, and they're all top. So you can't really go wrong.

What I like about both programs is that they are more about management, policy, leading to positions in NGOs, government or consultancy positions rather than research positions. That's what separates these programs from MOST environmental/ecological programs. Basically, I want to finish school and help the environment through being active in the field. I appreciate the curiosity that drives research (have done plenty myself!), but I need/want a job that helps me see my progress on issues. I also don't really want to write grants my whole life.

I am leaning toward Monterey, but I thought Bren was going to have to REALLY knock my socks off to stand a chance of me wanting to go there instead. Impressively, I would love to go there too. Still leaning slightly toward MIIS, but applying to both, looking into more questions about both. Win-Win.


Anonymous said...


great blog! Very encouraged and excited for you. I'm sure you throw yourself into this new adventure with passion and grit!



cari said...

"my personality and ideas can be really, shall we say, "creative" at times...and having a program like this might be grounding"

Creativity should never be grounded. Fuck that.

Tiffanie said...

the prospects sounds so promising!!
selfishly and unselfishly, i'm cheering for you!

LPNord said...

Alyssum, a friend of mine (and former Fulbrighter) went to Monterey and absolutely loved it! He also did a MBA program while there at Fisher, so he is perhaps more on the business-side of things. Let me know if you would like to get in touch with him. This sounds similar to what I am doing these days (minus the sunny weather and marine life murals).

Best, Lesli