I have spent six years in university and taken two degrees: a B.A. with majors in International Relations and Political Science and an M.Phil in International Relations. The logical academic progression, if I were to continue, would be to do a Ph.D or D.Phil. That would take between 2+ (Oxford D.Phil) and 4+ (North American Ph.D) years, but I have my doubts about whether that would be the best use of time. The 2+ is generous for Oxford, given that my thesis was the weakest part of the work I did there. I would need a more solid research project to form the basis of a doctorate.
Doing a doctorate in something like I.R. or PoliSci would certainly involve some new learning: perhaps some more quantatative and qualitative methods, certainly more exposure to theory and a particular subject area for a dissertation. It would increase how much I know about PoliSci/I.R. compared with other people who have studied in those fields.
By contrast, spending 3-4 years studying something like engineering, law, or a pure science would certainly teach me more, relative to what I know now. It would involve whole new methodologies and areas of knowledge. By any objective measure, it would widen my knowledge enormously more than doing more work on PoliSci/I.R.
That said, academia isn’t like trivia; your ranking isn’t based on your relative level of knowledge on a broad range of subjects. Rather, the stature of students is determined by how much they know compared with their peers (and, between real academics, on the basis of publication history).
At this time, I don’t have any interest in trying to rise up in academia. It would surely be a tedious endeavour, full of weird infighting and ever-increasing specialization. My ambition, at this point, is to try to make a difference in how humanity responds to the threat of climate change.
Measured against that objective, the question ceases to be about the relative abstract knowledge value of study in different areas. To me, it seems clear that more PoliSci/I.R. work would be fairly pointless. Some sort of technical study could be useful, depending on how exactly I want to work on climate change. For instance, an engineering degree would give me a better ability to evaluate ideas about energy sources, efficiency, conservation, and so forth.
Despite that, when it comes to lack of action on climate change, I don’t think a lack of technical experts is our problem. We have the knowledge and skills to start building a low-carbon global economy. What we lack is the drive to do so. That drive is unlikely to arise out of academic study, and greater technical knowledge may not provide any insights into how to generate it. Focused on that issue, spending a few more years cloistered in school doesn’t seem like a good way to advance my objective.
Everything about climate change is steeped in uncertainty. Just as we cannot know in advance how the climate system will respond to our actions, we cannot fully anticipate how entrenched human systems will respond to any sort of effort to change them. For now, the best approach seems to be a combination of branching out (to pursue multiple strategies) and determination.
That said, if it ever seems like the world has finally gotten itself off a course towards destruction, it would be nice to go back and study something interesting for the sake of knowledge itself. It would also be around that time that I thought it was fair and potentially sensible to have children. Right now, we would be introducing them into a world fraught with such terrible risk that I question the ethics of doing so.