To Know the Causes of Things: How I got into the London School of Economics (LSE)

Originally published on August 31, 2016.

Last week, I had submitted my final coursework at the LSE; a 12,000-word dissertation that concluded my 12 months of study. Needless to say, it was a bittersweet moment, marking an inevitable end to what has been a challenging, enlightening, and liberating experience. Now, I find myself in a kind of limbo-state: from being a full-time student to a full-time professional. I’m looking for my dream job and hope to find a great flat in London where I can settle down. To reckon with this sense of uncertainty and potential, I offer the following reflection on my time at the LSE. Moreover, for myself, I hope this meditation on the past year sheds light on the intentions I have for the future.

My entry to the LSE was synchronistic. During my final night of studying at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB), I had distracted myself for a few minutes by searching online for graduate study programs in media and communications. The LSE’s Department of Media and Communications appeared as the very first search result. After investigating their website with impatience and voracity, I was hooked. I had to go there. Only there, nowhere else. I had the hardest time sleeping that night, thinking about how Jed Bartlet of The West Wing went there (fictionally, of course) and how President John F. Kennedy’s political consciousness was inspired by LSE professor Harold Laski. I then remembered the many floating heads who had appeared on Fareed Zakaria GPS and impressed me with their global outlook and rich, multiperspective analyses of current affairs. The mythos of the LSE had infiltrated my dreams. The next day, I had sent my mother an email entitled, “Why I couldn’t fall asleep,” with a link to the LSE’s Department of Media and Communications website. And then, life moved on.

My experience at UWB was amazing and empowering; I had felt the school was made just for me. All of my professors were wonderful and the community was tightly-knit and very locally-focused. I was studying media and communications and also consciousness (the only public research university in the world to offer such a degree). To find a similar place of purpose, creativity, and hope after UWB would be rare. This was my experience after graduating. Through a great professor, I had found a job with a not-for-profit startup focused on education and gaming. On paper, it looked great. My role involved research, graphic design, and social media marketing. But I did not feel fulfilled there. I denied these feelings for a while and finally the time to part ways had arrived. I found myself without a tangible next step for the future. And for some reason, deep down, I had felt that Seattle did not have room for me anymore.

For over a month, I went back and forth, mulling over next steps to take in life. Do I want a job? It depends. Would that fulfill me? Probably not. As my indecision prolonged, my parents grew tense and so did my numbness. But, as my interest in working lessened, the dream of LSE grew more and more present in my mind. I was in a place where I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. This realization had scared me. Finally, as the calendar changed to April 2015, the final hour, I had decided to apply to the LSE’s Department of Media and Communications for graduate study.

For the next month, I had poured my heart and soul into a personal statement. This process was dreadful. How do I capture my passion and dreams in several hundred words? Can it be done? Will it work? As the first few drafts of my statement turned out to be dismissible, I looked to my guru, Sandeep Ranade, for advice. During a Skype session where he psychoanalyzed and mind-mapped my motives and intentions, I quickly learned that my focus was misplaced. I had been distorting the meaning of this application. Instead of being about how the LSE would allow me to fulfill the causes that keep my pulse, my application had become a ticket for escaping the suffocating sense of mediocrity I had felt; a supposed way towards superiority. Shocked by the misplacement of my feelings, I contemplated really what this application to the LSE was all about — and not about.

I turned to the LSE’s fateful motto, “Rerum Cognoscere Causas,” for inspiration: To know the causes of things. But, how could I know the causes of things when I myself felt no cause?! It was upon this humbling realization that I found my voice, after months of confusion. Studying at the LSE, above all, would allow me to refine my own sense of cause, under the scrutiny of a global perspective — and what I would bring to that view. As this newfound voice flowed out, so did my statement of purpose. After revision, advice from Sandeep and my brother, and more revision, I had found myself with a statement that I really loved. Here is what I had submitted to the LSE on 27 April 2015 with my application:

Choosing a Mindful Media Policy

On April 26, 1961, President John F. Kennedy argued that mankind would look to the press, as “the recorder of man’s deeds, the keeper of his conscience, [and] the courier of his news,” for strength and assistance with what man was born to be: “free and independent.” For me, media is far more than merely entertainment, promotion, or information. I want to live in a world that recognizes media’s profound nature: artifacts latent with choices about who we are and wish to be. Media are encoded with the values, beliefs, and hopes of our collective consciousness — and I want to decode them.

My experiences in media, communication, design, and consciousness — at the university, in the workplace, and in my personal life — have instilled an insatiable curiosity about the nature of media as a confluence of culture and consciousness. I am led to believe that the world is in need of more “mindful media:” stories that encourage within us the awe, curiosity, and spirit needed to evolve our shared world and story.

The stories that have deeply moved me don’t just look, feel, or sound beautiful: they have helped me evolve consciously.

What if we viewed media as a tool to evolve humanity’s cause? What if we built media to advance the nature of humanity? I believe media has a unique position and an awesome potential to profoundly redefine humanity’s trajectory and identity. I want to explore this possibility through the London School of Economics’ MSc program in Media and Communication Governance. My identity, expertise, and experiences are fueled by an ambition to uncover the relationships between media and communication and consciousness and their implications on theory, research, and policy.

I enrolled at the University of Washington Bothell (UWB) with the intention of studying media and communication. As it so happened, UWB was one of the only public research universities in the world to offer a program in consciousness studies. After my first consciousness class, I took every remaining course available in the series. Being exposed to scientific concepts about the nature of the mind, informed by depth psychology, neuroscience, quantum physics, and contemplative practices, was literally mind-boggling. Along with gaining a love for research, I developed a sense that the disciplines I had been studying might be interconnected in profound yet unclear ways.

My interest in consciousness was influenced by a very contemplative aspect of my life: Hindustani Classical music. I have been practicing tabla and harmonium since age six and vocal improvisational music since age eleven. I’m now an advanced practitioner of this art and have performed with many Hindustani musicians in Seattle, including for the University of Washington’s world music series. This music provides me with a sensitive awareness for spirituality and creativity. It demands me to consider the nature of the unknown, including aspects of myself. So, the mysteriousness of consciousness did not deter but instead heightened my interest.

The consciousness courses brought an academic relevance to the contemplative dimension of my life in music and renewed my appreciation for science. I co-founded UWB’s consciousness club to promote extracurricular programs about consciousness for the campus community. We were awarded Outstanding Program of the Year in our first term. As president of the club in my senior year, I led a grassroots student movement which urged the passing of the stalled Minor Degree in Consciousness. Through lobbying student government, online activism, and meeting with university leaders, the degree was approved within two months. My faith in the program’s contribution to academia and students’ lives was validated, and I will continue to advocate it.

Media has been a part of my life for as long as music has been. We had a home computer when I was young. I would make films out of slideshows using PowerPoint. I spent my time immersed in the many worlds a TV-watching, game-playing, book-reading adolescent would find at the time: Star Wars, Harry Potter, Avatar: The Last Airbender, etc. In high school, I wrote for our student newspaper, The Barque and produced our student broadcast news, KASB’s “Wake Up!” I also directed a series of short films and live remote productions of student theatre performances. At UWB, I applied my honed media production skills to record and publish live Hindustani Classical concerts that I had organized. While lobbying for the Minor Degree in Consciousness, I directed a documentary about UWB’s consciousness program and student activism surrounding the degree.

At UWB, I pursued undergraduate research projects with both the liberal arts school and sciences school to quench my interest in both media and consciousness. I studied how games may promote mindfulness, how undergraduate students were affected by learning about consciousness, and developed a research proposal for a consciousness studies institute. These projects synergized an inner dialogue for me about media, communication, and consciousness. Can media represent shifts in consciousness? Can shifts in consciousness be tracked in media? It sparked a wish to develop a scheme that addressed these issues.

But, life took me elsewhere. Having done well at UWB, I was hired after graduation by foundry10; an education and research start-up created by Valve Software’s founder, Gabe Newell. At Valve, I found myself working for the darling leader of the gaming industry, with the opportunity to collaborate with the industry’s best researchers, designers, and producers. I started part-time as an assistant researcher and in three months was promoted to full-time as a communications manager and graphic designer. Yet, it wasn’t what I really wanted to do.

My relentless inner compass kept surfacing. The same drive that led me to recover my family’s forgotten ancestral home in the jungles of Konkan in India two years ago. The same passion that I advocated which led to the approval of the Minor Degree in Consciousness at UWB. The same wonder that suggested a commingling of media, communication, and consciousness may reveal something fascinating about human nature. After eight months, I left my job in order to feed that sense. That leads me to this application.

I have the practical skills and experience to make high-quality media as well as the theoretical conscientiousness to makes my work thorough and meaningful. My projects have furthered causes, advocated for the arts, and embody a driven spirit. I live and breathe what I believe in, as a scholar and practitioner. But, the cause I believe in — to advocate the implications of consciousness studies to media practices, research and policy — demands more of me. I recognize that my abilities, thinking, and influence must be richer and more advanced in order to actualize my ideas.

I am restless because I am distanced from the reality I wish to create. It connects who I am to what I want to study: how media demonstrates that ritual of choosing the world we want. It represents a human desire that may be as primordial as consciousness. That condition may be as reducible as behavior, as ambiguous as spirituality, or as precise as a thermometer. But, it still seems obscure, and I need to know it. We have seen how new media and communication has uniquely enabled populations to dismantle governments, disrupt markets, and even destroy cultural norms. I see media’s potential to facilitate and represent glacial shifts in consciousness and elucidate the implications about the choices we have made and will make as a species. I want to study that.

What better place to explore these questions than this program, which focuses on policy? I am applying to this program not simply to ponder questions, but to summon answers. LSE produces leaders who bring light to issues hidden in the world’s shadows; issues that are avoided, ignored, or overlooked. To me, media as a confluence between culture and consciousness is one of those issues, and I will bring attention to it. Topics fundamental to this issue are offered by this program: audience response and psychology, media interpretation, communication policy, and emerging global media industries. “Mindful media” is a cause I want to know — and be. Studying in London, at my dream school, I will be rigorously tested at the nexus of global debate. I will be challenged to solve the mysteries that keep me questioning and thus consciously realize my full potential.

Albert Einstein said, “No problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.” I am a worthy investment for LSE because I am emboldened to join a legion of thought leaders and creative builders who evolve the world and thus solve its problems. I want to evolve my consciousness, help the world learn how it can too, and understand how media and communication can facilitate that growth and solve the world’s dire problems. I want to earn my doctorate and lead the media industry towards this new perspective. I am eager to make these choices, with a promise that I will do my best, become my best, and lead the world with what I have yet to learn and create.

I am delighted to report that, after nearly a year-and-a-half, I have realized my dream. My dissertation was entitled, Mindful Media: Contemplating Beliefs about Self and Choice in the Narratives of Mediated Lives. The privilege of completing this research was beyond cathartic. It was enlightening.

But, am I any closer to realizing my “cause”? Only time will tell. Apart from learning that correlation is not causation, I have come to understand that “cause” is not just a noun, it’s a verb. And, in the immortal words of Robert Frost, “that has made all the difference.”

This article was originally published on my website on August 31, 2016.

Audience & Narrative Advocate — Writes about tech policy, beliefs, and global affairs. Studied at LSE, Oxford, and UW Bothell. Indian Classical musician.