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  • carlgombrich

Education FOMO

Updated: Mar 1, 2021

It's the greatest age ever for learning - provided you have a phone and decent internet connection. It's the overwhelming, over-abundant, infinitely beguiling sweetshop of knowledge and information we are walking through and living in - every single day.

So how it is possible not to feel you are missing out?

Spend time watching that great lecture on YouTube? You are missing out on listening to that podcast by one of your sporting or business heroes. Spend time in the evenings reading that great academic paper you got for free on PLOS ONE ? You are missing out on following that free MOOC. Spend some time learning data science? You are missing out on perfecting your writing or graphic abilities.

Same happens with your degree programme.

If you are studying a single honours degree, you are pretty much bound to feel: 'This is so narrow! Why do I need to learn all this stuff prescribed by my university department in pretty much the same way as it has been for decades? There's tons of stuff over there, in other departments and on other courses, which I also want to learn and which seems more relevant to my interests and goals.'

But if you do an interdisciplinary degree, you are pretty much bound to feel at some point: 'What I am doing is really broad and challenging. And I'm having to make my own connections between things I am learning. Wouldn't it be easier to do what so many of my friends are doing and just learn one "subject"? For one thing, I wouldn't have to keep explaining my degree to my friends and family! If I was doing just one, traditional subject then they wouldn't keep bugging me about whether I was getting "depth".'

Yes, I've skewed this because I think interdisciplinary degrees are more exciting and relevant than most single honours degrees for most people at this point in history. But I don't think interdisciplinary degrees really have a case to answer about providing 'depth' in academic subjects - at least not if they are structured correctly and require cognitive effort and serious outputs from students. One person's 'depth' in an academic subject is another's narrow specialism and collecting of pointless minutiae. But for sure it can feel like FOMO if everyone over there understands the traditions and parameters of their subject and you have to work things out for yourself, create your own meaning out of the combinations you are making and connections you are seeing.

What we call 'depth' is often associated with expertise. But much contemporary expertise is interdisciplinary or non-disciplinary. And, more interestingly, in many of the areas we care about today: climate change, sustainability, AI and ethics, financial reform, education, digital health, etc, you can only become an expert because of your interdisciplinarity, not in spite of it. This makes interdisciplinary education challenging, but this also makes it fun; better than fun, it makes it gripping! This is the cutting edge where new ideas are created and grasped.

There may be FOMO for an easier life while you are studying on your interdisciplinary programme. But almost nothing worth achieving is easy. So keep going. It's worth it.


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