Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Inter and intra- disciplinary research

Sometimes, its like talking to someone in Russian.  All I know how to say in Russian is hello, thank you and delicious.  It was enough to get by on a Russian ship for a month, but not enough to enable the creation and innovation needed to fuel science.  In that case, I relegated myself to surviving the trip (without eating Borscht).

Now I'm find myself in the mecca of biomedical sciences and this time on a yearly timescale.  It was time I learned a new language.  Through seminars, journal clubs, and discussions in the hallways, I think I've done a pretty good job picking up biomedical speak and the ABCs of the institution.  I thought that oceanography had too many acroynms; I was wrong.  Oceanography had nothing on biomedical sciences.  Every gene, mutant, and imaging platform has an acronym and possibly multiple acronyms that all mean the same thing.  It was exhausting but I can now read a fruit fly development paper (yes, Sarah Palin, we spend millions and millions to study fruit flies) or a human neuroimaging paper and not reach for the keyboard to google a term.

So why does this matter?  Why is it so important to learn to speak biomedical or physics or geology?  I have to learn many languages because I want to.  I see the potential for innovative and exciting science at the nexus of different disciplines and subdisciplines.  I scoff at the traditional disciplinary barriers.  Why can't a biologist use a physics model?  Why can't an ecologist survive, and actively contribute, to a cancer institute?  New perspectives on old problems can bring new insights, answers and questions. I believe that by overlapping and overreaching our comfort zones, we can bring (as my current institution loves to say) transformative changes.  So here I am, a biological oceanographer and ecologist at the largest biomedical research institution seeking to learn and advance both oceanographic and biomedical science.

Now... to teach my colleagues enviro- or eco-speak.