Let me start this post by looking back at my PhD candidacy exam. Here’s what this rite of passage involves at University of Calgary. The professors on the supervisory committee and internal examiners all submit questions to the PhD supervisor, who whittles them down to three pairs of questions sent to the PhD candidate. The candidate chooses one per pair and has three weeks to submit three ‘substantive’ research papers (one per question). One week later, at the oral exam, the same faculty members can grill ask the candidate about: the papers, the questions the candidate chose not to answer or the candidate’s specialisation.
My specialisation was urban wildlife ecology and here’s one of the questions I chose.
In choosing your “area of specialisation”, you implicitly suggest that “urban ecology” is a distinct discipline. Convince us that it is, rather than simply a narrow aspect of ecology or conservation biology. Is there a unique conceptual framework or a set of unifying principles that defines urban ecology and distinguishes it as a discipline, and if so what is it?
Frankly, I only chose it because it was the best option in a bad pair. And that’s saying a lot, because I had never researched and discussed philosophies of science and education or pondered the meaning of ‘discipline’ before.
Now, here’s a statement from my 8 361-word paper (written in late 2007).
As to the question of whether urban ecology has its own unique conceptual framework or central paradigms… it does not. Therefore, it generally borrows existing ecological theories, some of which may be more appropriate than others (Collins et al. 2000, Kaye et al. 2006).
Given that even then, many (e.g., Kaye et al 2006, Dooling 2007) still viewed urban ecology as an emerging, or at least, young discipline, things have changed fast. If I had to rewrite my candidacy exam today (OMG please no), the above statement would no longer be appropriate. Because urban ecology now has three well-recognised paradigms.