I was privileged to give the keynote presentation at Norwich University’s Undergraduate Research Symposium recently, entitled “Keeping an Open Mind.” I still remember being a summer research fellow in math at Norwich, my alma mater, in 2004 and then pursuing independent studies in computer security my junior and senior years. Gaining the experience of research while still an undergrad eased my transition into a professional career in security research.
My message to the audience was that interdisciplinary research is possible, important, and fun. I used EO Wilson’s philosophy of consilience to reason why knowledge from diverse disciplines ought to mix: “The goal of consilience is to achieve progressive unification of all strands of knowledge in service to the indefinite betterment of the human condition.” This notion applies to our own industry of software security: a leading practitioner would arguably be well-versed in computer science, discrete math, software engineering, systems engineering, and psychology, among other disciplines.
To demonstrate that interdisciplinary research is important I used two examples. First, the research of Prof. Kevin Warwick of the University of Reading in the UK and its potential for treating people with damaged nervous systems. Second, that of Alan Turing’s interdisciplinary work during World War II. Turing’s contributions are said to have shortened the length of the war by two years. Finally, I used the example of the winners of the 2013 Ig Nobel awards to say that research is fun and it can make us laugh and think.
I followed with practical advice about approaching research with an open mind, tracking your ideas, working with a collaborative spirit, and finding your passion in research: when you become intrinsically motivated to learn something then there’s no stopping you – something we can all keep in mind throughout our careers.