the silverfish logo


Five Lessons I Have Learned as a Dual Degree Student

Claire M.

In September 2007, I moved from Boston to Seattle, because I thought I wanted to be a librarian. It turns out I was wrong. What I really want to do is work in public sector finance, and advocate for progressive tax reform in Washington State. If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s a non sequitur…” you’re not alone, because I’m pretty sure that’s what my mother thinks.

But I disagree.

I came to the Information School with dreams—albeit somewhat fanciful dreams—of learning how to enact systemic social change. I still have those dreams, and I think many librarians do too. However, after I took some classes—both inside and outside of the iSchool—I came to realize that my dreams are better realized through a MPA than a MLIS. So, for me, the switch from libraries to public administration was mostly a matter of approach.

Before I describe some of what I learned in moving between the two programs, I want to say that I am not a good example of a dual degree student. In fact, I’ll only have been an official dual degree student for two quarters, one of which I didn’t take any iSchool classes. Last winter, when I realized how dissatisfied I was at the iSchool and how satisfied I was at the Evans School, my dual degree student strategy became this: finish up my MLIS posthaste and dedicate myself wholly to studying public administration.

* * *

Lesson #1: You Can Take More Than Ten Credits

When I first came to the iSchool, both students and administration advised me not to take more than 10 credits per quarter because if I did, the workload would be overwhelming. I did not believe them, so I took as many classes as I thought I could handle. In the end, this risk paid off. I accelerated through core courses, which helped free up my schedule for electives and out-of-department classes in later quarters, and by fall of my second year I was in a position to graduate.

Obviously, this lesson will not be true for everyone. I work part-time and I have very few responsibilities (no house, no spouse, no kids, no car) so it is easy for me to take on more than the minimum. My point is not that everyone should take more than ten credits. It’s that if you think you are capable of taking more, you should trust your own talents, and move beyond accepted boundaries.

Lesson #2: You Cannot Take 18 Credits

This was a difficult lesson for me to learn. Taking 18 credits is possible, but it is hard work, even if the work itself is not hard. Class time alone eats up most of the day, and completing group work assignments can cause a conniption.

Let me put it this way: When I split my time exclusively between work and school, I became a hater. I spent 99.9999% of the day sucking my teeth at people, and the remaining 0.0001% losing all self-control. It was not worth it.

Lesson #3: If the iSchool Does Not Offer It, Another School Does

If there is a subject you are interested in learning about—early childhood education, computer architecture, social work, non-profit management, business research, you name it—there is a pretty good chance that UW offers a class on it. However, that chance decreases if you are looking only to the iSchool to provide it.

When I came to the iSchool, I wanted to manage an urban public library system like the ones I’ve worked for. It was my goal to help restore the library’s place in public infrastructure. When I didn’t see an iSchool class that quite related to any of that, I decided to look elsewhere. This led me to my first class at the Evans School, Public Budgeting and Financial Management, and from then on, I just picked up speed.

Librarianship is wonderfully interdisciplinary; how it can be anything else? For example, the best children’s librarians have an appreciation for mimicry and an understanding of early language acquisition; the best government librarians are knowledgeable about political science and sensitive to human geography. You have 21 credits to take anywhere in the Graduate School, so don’t waste your time in bad classes simply because they are in your department. Take something that you find valuable.

Lesson #4: If You Have to Take a Core, Make it Count

My greatest frustration at the iSchool was core courses. I did not find their content to be challenging or useful, unlike some of the electives I have had the opportunity to take. Therefore I found it disappointing to be required to spend more than half of my credits in cores, when there were other courses that could have better served my career path. It made little sense to me to have more than half of a curriculum consist of introductory material, normed on students with no experience in information technology or analytical thinking, when everyone I met in my cohort came to the iSchool already equipped with these skills.

If you feel a similar frustration with cores, you should know that LIS 570 and 580 can be waived for PBAF 527 and 511, and you don't have to be an MPA student to take them. There are likely many courses at UW that could fulfill core requirements, depending on the student’s willingness to endure all the necessary petitioning. The College of Education probably offers something comparable to LIS 560, just as the College of Engineering and College of Arts and Sciences may have something equivalent to LIS 540(s) and 550.

Lesson #5: Here is Not There

The Evans School is not the iSchool is not the School of Business. Different departments have different customs and expectations for graduate-level work. Be aware that what allows you to excel in one setting may barely pass you in another. Collaboration may power your work in one department, whereas competition fuels it in the next. It all depends.

* * *

Ultimately, courses in the Evans School have helped me to make sense of my goals for coming to graduate school in the first place. If you have some doubts about your direction in the iSchool, and are curious about public administration, please feel free to email me. I may not be able to answer your questions, but at the very least, I can probably put you in touch with someone who can.

January 10, 2009
Vol. XIII Issue 2

link to the iSchool blogroll

Find more at the Silverfish Blog