Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Too. Much. Going. On. I like Vienna a lot, but I am just not that happy here. I not entirely sure why that is. I think part of what is hard for me is that the program is 'multidisciplinary' and I don't really want to be doing so many different things, I want to be doing one thing: studying the former Soviet Union. Granted how I would want to study the former Soviet Union would also be multidisciplinary (politics, history, and languages), but multidisciplinary studies without a regional focus doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me, it just seems to me a like you know a lot about everything and at the same time nothing about anything. What also isn't helping is that the quality of teaching just isn't what I had as an undergrad. I don't know, Columbia definitely has its weaknesses and going their certainly isn't a passage to godhood as many Columbia snobs seem to think, but my professors there really made me think. When I was at Columbia I was forced to analyze, class reading was never more than a starting point, and I was encouraged to go and do political and historical research in areas where little had been done. What I felt I learned was very much a thought process and at the same time how to challenge ideas and be challenged myself. Here, all they want you to do on an exam, written or oral, is repeat what they said in class in words as close to what they said in class as possible. It is wrought memorization with little analysis and little training in the skill future scholars or policy makers would need: thinking informatively and understanding things for yourself. What kills me is that the way things are taught here is justified as it being 'graduate school.' As an undergrad I took a lot of graduate classes, mainly history and political science. Those classes were by far the furthest from what I am getting here. In graduate seminars we would do a lot of reading, but would then challenge the readings challenging them, identifying their weaknesses, or conversely extend their arguments and see how they would apply to other subjects, all in the preparation of our own papers and research. Here there is no challenging, neither of the sources or of professors. Mind you, I don't think everything has to be challenged, but if you have legitimate doubts about an argument you should be able to discuss it, you shouldn't just be expected to memorize it. To be fair, this isn't just the Austrian system: it is the system in much of Europe and probably much of the world. I do, however, think the scholarship in those countries suffers because the academic system essentially discourages independent thought.

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