Found this great little anecdote about the constant tug between the generalism and specialism in post-secondary education. It was posted on a listserv waaaay back in 1993 by a woman by the name of Alice Jones, a then-city planner in Ohio (I think).
As an undergrad, I pursued a degree in journalism because I figured that beinga reporter would be a great way to be a generalist……. if something struck my fancy, I could investigate and write a story about it!
But I quickly discovered that reporters ARE expected to be specialists. They’re supposed to specialize in a particular beat, and if you can’t define or of adequately describe your beat, then you’ll have trouble selling yourself as a reporter.
Then as a graduate student, I pursued a degree in geography. “Tee Hee!” thought I, “I get to be a generalist!” But no. I soon soon encountered the ever-present problem that geographers have faced forever: explaining to people unfamiliar with the field just what it is I do, and why I should be hired to do it for them.
When I started shopping around to pursue degree #3, I thought a lot about this specialist/generalist problem. For me, I solve the problem (I hope) by choosing to pursue a doctorate in a degree program that still gives me a great deal of freedom to be a generalist, but has a label that makes people unfamiliar with the field think that I’m somehow a specialist. My choice? City and Regional
Where will this take me in my career? We’ll see. But as a statistics professor of mine once remarked, “Anyone can be an instant expert at anything if they put their mind to it in the short run. The secret to building a successful research career is studying what you want to study, and then finding the links between all of your own ‘instant expert’ episodes so that you can convince other people that you’re building a cohesive body of work.”