I CAME TO TARTU, NOW I STUDY KITTENS AND PUPPIES… – JASON (USA)
For a lot of students watching cat videos is usually a form of procrastination, but I call it research. When you do your Master’s thesis on cute animals, up to date knowledge of cat videos is necessary. Yes, that is correct I now study the biology of what makes things cute. Jealous (◕‿◕)? Coming into the University of Tartu I would never have imagined that I would be researching cuteness.
In my undergraduate, I studied sociolinguistics and was planning to continue on that path at UT originally. I thought I had it all planned out and was ready to push forward with linguistics under the guise of semiotics, but my instructors and program really opened my eyes to what one can study and encouraged me to study something I truly feel passionate about, cute things!
The semiotics program here does things a little differently, instead of being expected to have one point of focus you are required to take courses from a variety of fields. The program is composed of three modules: Cultural semiotics, social semiotics, and biosemiotics. Seeing biosemiotics on the curriculum made me a bit reluctant at first. I mean I came here to language and socio-semiotics, why should I be expected to learn biology?
Most of my course mates also came from similar backgrounds; language studies, journalism, and communication for the more part, so we were all a bit reluctant to be learning about how dragonflies see and how ticks perceive the world. But those things we mocked in the beginning of our course, have no become something that shaped our worldview, and even became a point of study for me.
In my ecosemiotics class, we briefly learned about animal aesthetics, and how humans often view animal attractiveness based on our own human conception of beauty. This led me to first research cute animals. I had always loved cute animals but didn’t know there was an intensive field of study behind what made them cute. From then on I knew I needed to find a way to utilize cuteness for EVIL (cough) I mean marketing. (Ya turns out you can use cute animals into manipulating people to buy things and it’s a growing job market.)
The teaching staff were a bit surprised when I jumped off the linguistic train for the greener pastures of cute animals, but were completely supportive along the way. Now I am having a lovely time writing my thesis and can even say I was productive if I see a cat on street and run up to pet it.
I can’t imagine having had such a complete change of perspective or being nearly as happy with my studies in any of the other programs I was looking at. The University of Tartu expanded my knowledge base and encouraged my to explore my own academic ideas, for that I am truly appreciative. I haven’t decided quite yet what I’ll do after my studies here, but I will from now on always justify watching videos of cute animals as academic research.