Respect goes a long way: why all research fields matter

Agricultural extension is one of the oldest forms of information dissemination methods that are used in the public space. It is the application of scientific research and new knowledge of agricultural practices through farmer education. The practical application of Agricultural extension encompasses a wide range of communication and learning activities that are purposefully made suitable, acceptable and relatable for farmers particularly those in rural communities. It is these learning activities and communication methods that I am most interested in and would love to contribute to the growing knowledge of keeping them relevant to changing technology times and information requirements. Over the years I have learned the importance of the Agricultural Extension discipline. I have also come to understand the fundamental principles upon which it was founded which have cultivated a visceral sense of appreciation in me. 

However, over the years I have been ridiculed a lot in the discipline that I have chosen. I have learned that respect for various disciplines within the agricultural space as well as other academic spaces goes a long way. In fact, it does not show respect only for the field but also for the people who are in the field that I have learned. I often hear people ridicule certain study fields that they believe are inferior to theirs because they are not “Hard Sciences” which makes me wonder whether it is plain ignorance, or do they just assume that they are better or is it straight up arrogance with a huge dose of disrespect. I may never know but I do know that it is has a lasting impression on the minds of those to whom the disrespect is thrown.

Consequently, I developed an inferiority complex which stuck with me for quite a while. Initially, I thought I had the imposter syndrome but now I understand that the years of taking in the ridicule and disrespect led to the development of an inferiority complex deep within myself. When I registered for my undergraduate degree I was excited and hopeful until I started attending classes and I realized my classmates (the agricultural extension class of 2012) and I were treated differently by the “hard science” group of students. Reason being we had registered a Bachelor degree instead of a “Bachelor of Science degree”. According to them a bachelor of Agriculture was not worth their respect, the disrespect was real. 

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My classmates and I were bombarded with sinister remarks such as “the dumb peoples’ degree” or “are they even scientists really?  “If they are what on earth are they doing?” This treatment continued until our Honors year.  By the time we got to Honors level, a number of us had changed the degree for various reasons of course but sometimes I cannot help but wonder whether the disrespect was part of the major influences that convinced my classmates to change their degrees to “hard science degrees” Those of us who of course decided to stick with our choice in life continued to endure the demining remarks.

Needless to say, it is not only within the agricultural disciplines that such behaviour is prominent. More-often-than-not academics in various disciplines exhibit disrespect towards each other in one form or another. For example, differences in opinion about which field is more demanding and more important exist between natural science and social science scholars. Just like how one is considered to have worked less or is inferior if they are a “Doctor of Philosophy’ rather than being a “Medical Doctor”.

I am glad I stayed…

I have said this before that I have come to love and respect the discipline because of the rudimentary principles it was founded and still functions on.  But this liking and being certain that I want to stay in agriculture did not come without me doubting whether or not I should continue in it. It is true that “life will test your choices” and through my experiences as a Bachelor of Agriculture graduate, it has.

So for the longest time, I have questioned my belonging in the academic space. I wondered whether pursuing a career in academics was worth it because academics for me was that one space where I experienced a lot of self-doubtsjuly 1. Fast forward to now, I work on an interdisciplinary study and I strongly believe that healthy interdisciplinary study and work environments where we as individuals make the informed, civil and kind decision not to undermine, and make sinister jokes about each other professions are the kind of environments we need to grow the body of knowledge.  Truth is we need each other to co-exist.

Reflections on my first semester as a Masters student

I made it! I survived my first semester as a Masters student! I am exhausted, since the end of the semester consisted of too many assignments due in a very short amount of time, but I am very happy to never have to see a class test or tutorial question ever again.

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One of the most important things my first semester has taught me is endurance. Going through a 9-week term with a never-ending workload and no break before the next 5-week term is tiring  – especially while trying to balance research and blogging along with my coursework. I’ve found that having my hobbies and not waiting for the holidays to have some rest and some fun helps me refuel my energy and motivation. Postgrad does not get easier and I’m glad that I’ve learnt how to keep going through the difficult parts.

This semester has taught me gratitude. I’ve come to realise that doing postgrad can bring up a lot of comparison to other students and feelings of inadequacy. Doing a semester of coursework while other Masters students are working on research can sometimes feel frustrating when your classmates appear to be ‘ahead’ and are busy with the exciting parts of research while you’re ‘stuck’ doing assignments.

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However, taking time to pause and be grateful for where I am right now has helped ease those feelings. When I stop and think about how much I’m learning from my difficult courses and how those courses will help me become a more well-rounded scientist, and think about how lucky I am to have two fantastic astronomers as my co-supervisors, it becomes much more difficult to feel like I’m worse off than my classmates.

Lastly, I’ve learnt just how much I love to research. I’m looking forward to working on my thesis next semester. I spent a lot of time last year doing research, so going back to coursework has shown me how much I miss it. Although research is challenging in its own ways and I still have so much to learn – it’s a challenge I can’t wait to embrace.

What lessons you learnt from your first semester of postgrad?