You’ve probably noticed things have been a little quiet around here lately, and the fact is I’m basically burned out from an absolutely mental year… well, really a mental TWO years, and an emotionally bruising year before that too.
Living out of a backpack is incredibly liberating, but it’s also meant being “on” non-stop for the last two years – constantly planning where I need to be next, how I’ll get there and where I’ll sleep each night. If I was just walking and camping thing wouldn’t be particularly stressful, but the constant schedule juggling to try and visit schools, speak at events and do ALL the things from an office you carry in a bag has been pretty draining.
I’ve realised increasingly this year that what I really want to be doing is writing books and articles for Patreon/my website, with the occasional trip to speak or present somewhere before returning to a semi-stable environment. I want to spend more time writing about space exploration’s impact on humanity from my perspective of someone preparing to leave Earth behind, and a lot less time talking about it.
With that in mind, I’ve applied for a 2 year Master’s programme in the “Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society” at the University of Twente (UT) in the Netherlands. It’s the only masters in the world looking at the relationship between technology and society from a philosophical perspective, and UT is also Mars One’s education partner. I’ve applied to start in February 2018, but it makes a lot more sense if I wait till the new academic year starts in September 2018 – not only will I get to apply for a mountain of scholarships that aren’t available in February, but I’ll also be able to use the time between now and then to write my next book (Cosmic Nomad) for the 2018 National Science Week before flying out to the Netherlands. Ofcourse Mars One making a major announcement in the next few weeks (as I suspect they will) could change ALL of this, but I’m keen to not put my Master’s off any longer and I’m particularly excited about what is being offered by this programme at UT, so I’ve applied and will see what the next few months bring.
Besides sending the usual CV and academic transcripts, part of the application process was to write a “Letter of Motivation” on why I felt compelled to apply. If I need to reapply for the September 2018 intake then I’ll be removing two of the penultimate paragraphs and probably adding a bit about publishing Cosmic Nomad, but this is what I sent to the University of Twente’s admissions office yesterday – enjoy.
To Whom It May Concern,
My name is Josh Richards and I would like to formally submit this letter of motivation for my application to the University of Twente’s Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society (PSTS) two-year Master’s programme. I believe this programme is uniquely relevant to my current professional experience as an interdisciplinary artist and science communicator with an extensive background in the ethical and technological challenges of humanity’s development into a multi-planetary species.
As one of 100 shortlisted global candidates to Mars One’s one-way Mars colonisation mission in 2031, I’ve used my experience as a physicist and professional stand-up comedian to advocate for the critical role the humanities and social sciences must play as we race towards a permanent human presence beyond low-Earth orbit. University of Twente’s tagline High tech, human touch resonates strongly with my efforts over the last 5 years to use comedy and deeply personal storytelling to communicate the ethical, scientific, engineering and emotional challenges of humanity’s next “giant leap”. Through three internationally-toured science-comedy stage shows and writing my book Becoming Martian (ISBN:9780648135609) on how humanity will change physically, psychologically and culturally by colonising Mars, it has become increasingly clear that my deepest interest is in the philosophy of using technology to expand the human experience and to ask what kind of relationship our species wants to have with the Universe.
Given the PSTS is the only Master’s programme in the world with a genuinely philosophical approach to the role of technology in society, that Mars One’s CEO Bas Lansdorp is a University of Twente alumni who strongly encouraged me to study in Enchede, and that I’ve previously lectured at the University of Twente as part of the 2013 Living On Mars conference, it’s natural that I would choose this Master’s programme to develop my passion for the philosophy of science and technology’s role in society. The University of Twente’s international orientation, contact-intensive instruction and group project focus mirrors my three years experience as both an alumni and staff member of the International Space University (ISU). Founded on providing an interdisciplinary, intercultural and international educational experience; ISU provided the opportunity for space industry professionals from across the globe with an extraordinary range of professional experiences to collaborate through a shared passion for space exploration – an incredibly challenging yet rewarding experience that I believe the PSTS Master’s will improve on through a shared passion for the philosophy of technology and its role in society.
As a staff member for ISU I was fortunate enough to lead research teams of over 30 in the development of guidance documents for the United Nations and national space agencies for both the use of space technology to provide food/water security; and the ethical, scientific and engineering challenges of human Mars exploration. Given my small-team leadership experience through the Australian Army and British Royal Marine Commandos, ISU also invited me to lecture and run workshops on small-team dynamics at their 2016 summer programs in Adelaide (Australia) and Haifa (Israel). I believe my experience in the management and optimisation of small groups would be a significant asset to the PSTS Master’s programme given its contact-intensive and small group focus, and I would relish the opportunity to utilise a skillset I’ve spent a decade developing.
Given my experience as science and engineering advisor to British contemporary artist Damien Hirst, my ongoing professional interest in using art to engage people with space science and technology, and my writing attempting to tackle the question of how our species will evolve by becoming multi-planetary; I’m especially drawn to the PSTS’s Technology and the Human Being specialisation. As we utilise technology to sustain life in hostile off-Earth environments such as open space, the Moon or Mars; the changes in gravity alone will shift our experience of reality and shape our daily lives differently to those living on Earth. It is my hope that by studying philosophical anthropology and how humans and technology simultaneously influence each other through the Technology and the Human Being specialisation, I will be able to better understand how art, technology and culture may evolve as humanity becomes a multi-planetary species and apply this toward a PhD dissertation in the future.
While I understand that it’s recommended to start the PSTS Master’s in September, given my broad and relevant experience I hope that an allowance to start in February will be granted. I have been eager to enroll in the PSTS Master’s for the last 5 years, but had committed to stay in Australia as a media ambassador to Inspiring Australia and advocate for the formation of an Australian space agency. With the recent announcement at the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide for a national space agency however that commitment is complete, and so I’m now eager to further my academic career at the earliest opportunity.
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter explaining my motivations for applying to the University of Twente’s Philosophy of Science, Technology and Society Master’s programme. I sincerely hope that I’ve effectively conveyed my deep-seated conviction that I have both the passion and experience to excel in this programme, and that I have the opportunity to contribute significantly to the ongoing philosophical discussion on technology’s role in human society through the University of Twente.