About This Grad School Business: The Whys, the Wheres, and the What the Hecks

If I were to have a FAQ list for my life, the number one question right now would be, “Why did you decide to go to grad school?”  Question number two (by a verrrrry slim margin) would be “Why did you decide to go to grad school in England?

I have actually been meaning to write a post about this for a long time, and seeing as this is officially the first day of class, I guess it’s high time I actually did that. So if you’re interested in the answers to these and other questions, read on. If not, watch this super cool video and go about your day:

Click on the question to see my answer

Why did you decide to go to grad school?
This is kind of like asking a writer where they get their ideas–there really isn’t a simple or a straightforward answer. If I were to detail all of the different things that contributed to this decision, you would either get bored or think I was a crazy person. Or possibly both.

So the short and heavily abridged answer is that it just felt like the right thing to do. I have found something I’m deeply passionate about and wanted to learn as much as I possibly can. Reading books and articles wasn’t cutting it. I wanted to really know the science behind it, and a little voice just kept whispering, “You should really think about going to grad school.” Lots of research and prayer and “Are you sure? Like, sure sure?” conversations with God led to an application that I was 99% sure would be rejected.

Surprise! It wasn’t.

And here I am. So many things have happened to make this possible. Doors have been opened. Miracles have occurred. People have been placed in my path. Impossible things have suddenly just worked themselves out. It has still taken a lot of sacrifice (*cough student loans coughcough*), but those are sacrifices I’m willing to make because God has made it clear that this is what He wants me to do.

Okay then. Let’s do this.

Why did you decide to go to grad school in England?
Aside from the fact that I’m a serious anglophile, you mean?

Really, though, a love of England wasn’t enough to convince me to come here. What was enough to convince me to come here was a series of factors:

  • Since I would be studying organic farming, it made sense to do it in a country where the agricultural practices in general are more in line with my personal ethics than most of what goes on in the States. For example, English law currently prohibits the commercial growth of any genetically modified crops within the country. Furthermore,

    We’ll only agree to the planting of GM crops, the release of other types of GM organism, or the marketing of GM food or feed products, if a robust risk assessment indicates that it is safe for people and the environment. GM product applications should be assessed for safety on a case-by-case basis, taking full account of the scientific evidence.

    We’ll ensure consumers are able to exercise choice through clear GM labelling rules and the provision of suitable information, and will listen to public views about the development and use of the technology.

    We support farmers having access to developments in new technology and being able to choose whether or not to adopt them. If and when GM crops are grown in England commercially, we will implement pragmatic and proportionate measures to segregate these from conventional and organic crops, so that choice can be exercised and economic interests appropriately protected. (Gov.uk)

  • Tuition for my program was no more expensive (and possibly cheaper) than the tuition I would pay at any university in the United States, and since this program is only a year (compared to 2 or 3 years in the US), it was significantly cheaper than any program I’d be able to find at home. Not only that, but the shorter program length meant that I’d be back in the job market sooner.
  • I didn’t want to just study agriculture. I wanted to study organic agriculture or sustainable agriculture or something like that. There are remarkably few organic programs in the world, but Newcastle University has a fantastic program that is doing tremendous work in the field of organics and sustainability. Just this year, a team at the uni reported findings that “organic crops are up to 69% higher in a number of key antioxidants than conventionally-grown crops” and also demonstrate “significantly lower levels of toxic heavy metals.” That’s scientific evidence, folks. Not just some hippie selling vegetables on the street corner trying to convince you to buy some tomatoes.
  • It felt right.
What made you pick Newcastle University?
When my original dreams to go to a different UK uni were dashed into a million tiny pieces by the fact that they don’t participate in the FAFSA program, I decided to approach the task of choosing a school a little more logically. I took the list of all schools that do participate, and made note of every school that had an MSc program in agriculture. From there, I narrowed it down by different criteria that were important to me: my interest in the specific program, cost, university rank, post-graduation employment rate, length of program, distance relative to church, etc. (I’m a sucker for spreadsheets, so I actually turned into a super nerd and made a rating system for each of the categories.)

In the end, I had 4 programs I was most interested in. Two of them were at Newcastle. One of them was Organic Farming and Food Production. It actually wasn’t my first pick of the four, but it’s the one that felt right. (Are you seeing a theme? If you know me, you know that my faith is very important to me, so it’s going to be a major part of any major decision I make.) It’s the only program I applied for, and here I am. I already love it, and I’m so glad this is where I ended up.

You can get a Masters in Organic Farming? For realz?
For realz. Believe it or not, organic farming isn’t just a bunch of quackery. It is an important science–and crazy fascinating to boot.
So are you, like, a hippie or something?
My parents would probably say yes, but I promise I’m not. I’m just a concerned citizen who wants to campaign for food equality, empower people to be self-sufficient, improve the quality of affordable food, and rally against practices and organizations that don’t have the world’s best interest at heart.
Isn't this completely different than what you studied as an Undergrad?
Yes and no. It is a bit of a stretch to see how Recreation Management and Youth Leadership is related to Organic Farming and Food Production. Some might see it as a career switch, but since my long term goal has always been to work with youth in an agricultural setting, this is just another side of the same coin. I really want to work with initiatives that provide families with more access to food that is both healthy and affordable, and I believe that agriculture can be the perfect backdrop for teaching youth valuable, marketable skills that will greatly improve their future prospects. I’m also becoming increasingly interested in the idea of enacting change on a political level. I don’t yet know exactly how all of those dreams and goals will play out, but I have a few ideas and I’m eager to see how this year plays out.
Why Organic Farming? Don't you know that modern farming is feeding more people than organic farming can?
Honestly, I only ever hear this argument from those who have a vested interest in traditional farming. (Which really isn’t very traditional, if you think about it…) Furthermore, I have yet to see any evidence to support those claims. What I am seeing is that the majority of arable land in the US is being used to grow corn and soy for biofuels, cattle feed, and HFCS.

And even if someone were to come to me today with evidence that more people are eating food thanks to modern agriculture practices, I would ask, “At what cost?” We’re fatter because ALL of our food has corn sugar in it. Type II diabetes is on the rise, as are gluten intolerance and other food allergies. We’re destroying the planet and causing greater health risks with synthetic fertilizer, pesticides, and GMOs. Is it really a viable solution if it’s just creating more problems?

That’s not to say that I think traditional farming is all bad and organic farming is the only perfect solution. I don’t know all of the facts–but that’s why I’m here. I want to work on ways to improve yield and feed more people in healthier, more sustainable ways.  

So there you have it. Any other burning questions I should answer?

1 Comment

    1. So, I think all of this is good to know, but perhaps you should consider changing “traditional farming” to “industrialized farming”. I think traditional farming on single family farms run by hard working individuals who still maintain a strong connection to the land upon which they live and by which they are sustained can be very important to the future of healthy food production all over the world. It’s the industrialized, mass-producing, mono-cultured, machine-run farms that are causing the problems you mention. I recognize this is just one ignorant individual’s opinion, but I thought I should suggest maybe a change in vocabulary.

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