Farewell to running our interdisciplinary Environmental Masters program, March 2012

Over the last 3.5 years I have been Director of the Office for Environmental Programs at the University of Melbourne, which offers the postgraduate Master of Environment degree. We had a team of five staff and just-on 350 students from all over the world, and decent employment rates (and PhD follow-ons) for these graduates. We also moved into some great refurbished office space on campus in 2011. In March 2012 I decided it was time to return to research and teaching and to hand over to somebody else as Director, but as you can see from this ‘farewell’ post below, it was hard to leave.

Universities are hard places to work and it is not often you get a real conjunction of great staff and students, enough time and revenues to make a change, and underpinned by a sense of purpose and (in this case) an interesting multidisciplinary philosophy of education. The distinguishing feature of the Masters is that it allows you to choose classes from all over the university, in 10 different faculties. Very few universities permit this. As you can imagine, a certain amount of work was involved to set up and maintain this arrangement. It has certainly ruffled feathers since establishment in 2002 – some Faculties  preferred those students to be based in degrees that they run themselves (through our Graduate Schools). This is the arrangement at most universities worldwide, since the arrival of Environmental Masters in the late 1960s/early 1970s in Australia, Canada  and the USA – degrees housed in a single Faculty or Department.   But the M Environment degree has survived numerous University restructurings marvellously well, and retained its interdisciplinary ethos throughout. It is a degree for students wanting the right to get a ‘broad’ education in the environmental field that they select themselves, with some help from the OEP, channelling their efforts to skills and classes that they themselves find relevant to their needs and well taught.  They report back that they like this model. A student may select classes from energy studies and development studies, if they want to work in renewable energy in developing countries. Or, forestry science, sustainability, and project management if heading for a natural resources/forestry career. Or philosophy of science and environmental history, plus a research thesis,  in order to prepare for a PhD in these fields, for example.  Quantitatively inclined students take an Environmental Science stream. There are of course more focused Masters degrees on campus for those wanting them. Have a read, and all power to the OEP students and staff team. I had a blast, and am still involved as a Deputy Director and stream coordinator.


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