Letter to the editor: New wind energy Ph.D. could be broad

Jason Patton

I am deeply disappointed about the tone and lack of facts used in Wednesday’s editorial “Wind energy Ph.D. too much specialization.” It sounds like most of the concern expressed was founded purely from the name of the major and the quote from Jonathan Wickert. What I would have liked to have seen is a report on the curriculum itself, using that to back up your claim that the major is too specialized and why it’s a problem that students will only “[examine] problems solely in a wind energy light.”

Indeed, in any Ph.D. program, the students take classes and conduct research with their particular research topic in mind. For instance, most graduate-level courses have students complete semester projects. More often than not, the students find a way to fit their personal research into these projects. Although I am speaking from my own personal experience, I would venture that this is an attribute of most graduate programs and certainly would not be limited to a wind energy program alone. Nonetheless, as long as students are expected to take courses in a broad range of topics, the wide curricular background needed, as suggested in the editorial, is still covered.

I would also argue that there is a good chance that the wind energy program, despite sounding very specialized, will have a broader curriculum than most majors. The reason for this is stated in your editorial itself. It involves “departments as diverse as engineering, agronomy, sociology, statistics and journalism.” As someone in another specialized-sounding, yet (I would argue) broad and interdisciplinary major, agricultural meteorology, students in wind energy will likely be expected to take courses in all of these different fields of study. This means that they may end up with a background even broader than, say, a graduate student of “only” aerospace engineering or a graduate student of “only” meteorology. Speaking again from my experience in agricultural meteorology, I have had to take courses in a wide range of topics, from soil physics to boundary-layer meteorology to climate change to satellite remote sensing. I highly suspect a similarly wide, versatile curriculum to be specified for the wind energy major, which would seem to oppose the sentiment expressed in the editorial.

Finally, when it comes to job placement after the Ph.D., more emphasis is placed on one’s dissertation topic than the name of his/her degree. This fact was hinted at in the editorial, and there is no reason, at least certainly no good reason given in the editorial, that this should not be the case for wind energy degree recipients as well.

Concluding: heck, I could be completely wrong about the wind energy program curriculum being broad, but there was nothing in Wednesday’s editorial to make me believe otherwise. From my own experience in a similarly specialized-sounding major, my expectation is that the curriculum will be broad. And regardless of the graduate degree, students (and their major professors) will always view topics in light of their area of expertise. Perhaps Iowa State doesn’t need another graduate program, or perhaps this is not the next graduate program that it should add, but nothing in Wednesday’s editorial should lead one to believe that the new wind energy program, or any new program, will be over-specialized.