A Shift in Perspective

This past May, I graduated from Boston University with a B.S. in Biomedical Engineering, so it should make sense to the average reader why I am now doing my M.Sc. in Ireland in International Public Policy and Diplomacy, having never had a formal political or international relations class in my life prior to now. When you study engineering in college, family members, friends in other disciplines and perfect strangers will exclaim, “wow, engineering is so hard you must be smart!” They’re right in the sense that it was hard, very hard, but this constant reassurance that I had already conquered the unconquerable bequeathed me a false sense of security: nothing could possibly be harder than engineering.  I entered my course in Ireland with confidence; two hours later I left my first class panicked and on the phone with my dad as he just woke up on the East Coast, exclaiming to him that there was no way I knew enough to be successful.  Suddenly I was tasked to read up to 300 pages a week, where I had been assigned no reading for the past four years. I quickly learned that I was more than capable of procrastinating a problem set until the night before, but not written assignments.  Even something as simple as citation seemed so different; in STEM papers, every fact must be backed with evidence through citation, whereas in social science, you cite the opinions of other academics and facts to a certain extent may be left uncited.  Suddenly, ‘theories’ shifted from being unequivocable laws of the universe to shared ideas among scholars that only applied to certain cases, maybe. I sat in a Comparative Political Institutions class baffled that the professor was so amazed at an R^2 correlation of a mere 0.62. I was (am) a fish out of water. Yet throughout this sudden shift I couldn’t help but notice the startling similarities between the hard and social sciences.  Academics in both fields heavily utilize the scientific method, though where a hypothesis is proven through an experiment in hard sciences, meta- analysis are interpreted in social sciences. There is the same yearning for a deeper understanding of the world in both disciplines, though while the hard sciences hold out hope for universal theories, social science is made even more difficult grappling with the stochasticity of humanity. From this limited experience, I think that social science is perhaps more challenging than the hard sciences, as you must accustom yourself to the frustration that you may never know the answer to a question.  In fact, sometimes there simply aren’t answers, and not due to a lack of suitable technology, technical understanding or approximation methods that can be addressed in the future. This experience has awakened a part of my brain that I didn’t know was sleeping, and I’m hoping, beyond gaining the experiences in public policy necessary for me to enter public service in the future, that I return to the U.S. more immediately as a better scientist because of it.

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