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November 14, 2011 / steppsmsu

Guest Post from a STEPPS Graduate

Marci Baranski is a 2010 graduate of MSU with a major in biochemistry and the STEPPS specialization.  Marci won he university’s Featherstone Prize for the most outstanding graduating senior who “exhibits an open, curious, creative approach to education and ideas, and intellectual ingenuity.”  She is now pursuing a graduate degree at Arizona State University, and we asked her to write about her experiences in STEPPS and her current work.


In the fall of my senior year I was at a crossroads about what’s next. I always thought I would go to graduate school for biochemistry, which was my major, but could not picture myself slaving away in a lab for 5+ years. I was considering a master’s degree in environmental engineering, or public health, or food studies. For years now I had explored my graduate school options: eagerly bookmarking them on my browser and emailing promising professors. Or maybe I would just stay in Lansing to work with a local non-profit. As one of those over-committed students, I was equally passionate about environmental justice as I was science, and had no idea how I could have the best of both worlds.

Serendipitously, that same semester I enrolled in my core STEPPS classes and a history of science class in Lyman Briggs College. By the time November rolled around, I had decided to apply to three environmental studies programs (2 masters, 1 PhD programs) and Arizona State University’s Biology and Society PhD program. I had never considered ASU until two of my STEPPS professors recommended it to me. Little did I know, but I had already been “Maiensheined,” the endearing term we use when Dr. Jane Maienshein, the program director of Biology and Society, brilliantly cajoles you into something.

By early spring I had been accepted into three programs and visited two of them. I immediately liked ASU, a lot. For one, I didn’t feel like the outcast scientists going into social science. Many of the graduate students and professors there had life-changing experiences before graduate school: working in policy, industry, education, and other fields of academia before finding their home in the Biology and Society program. The program itself is extremely interdisciplinary, spanning bioethics, to history and philosophy of science, to environmental ethics and economics. I was hooked.

But I was still torn about the other two schools: one was an Ivy league master’s program where the famous wilderness ethicist, Aldo Leopold, went to graduate school, the other school was where he became a professor. Talking over my predicament with one of my current mentors at ASU, Dr. Daniel Sarewitz, he advised that you just have to follow your heart. After visiting the second school, I woke up the morning and knew: my heart was rooting for ASU.

A year or so later, I know I made the right choice. While I was introduced to science policy and history of science that fall at MSU, I now spend most of my days really delving into these topics. The interdisciplinary nature of my program means that I also take classes in environmental theory and history and explore my interests with other professors and graduate students who are passionate about the environment. Graduate school is certainly a challenge to manage your time, be proactive about interacting with professors, and building a community of peers, but where else do you get paid to study your favorite things?

To anyone considering applying to graduate school, all I have to say is make sure your heart is in it. Do it because you love learning, talking to intellectually curious people, and have an unanswered question driving you towards research. Don’t do it to get a better job, or for the prestige, because these things won’t help you make it through the weeks when there are a pile papers to be graded, books to be read, and proposals to be written.


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