Megan Holcomb is a masters student investigating the world of water – particularly, global concerns in water, sanitation, and hygiene development. She aspires to mediate cross-boundary water resource conflicts through a scientific lens and to harmonize international development with an interdisciplinary foundation in hydrology, ecology, socioeconomics, and international policy. It is her personal belief that we must refrain from becoming overly specialized with a small scope of expertise, as complex problems require more imagination, more ingenuity, and more breadth of knowledge to arrive at truly applicable solutions. She is the Vice-president of events for IDR honor society at Virginia Tech.
Virginia Tech’s Interdisciplinary Research Honor Society is trying to push the boundaries of campus-community involvement. Most clubs, organizations, and societies all strive to unite a group of people based on some common interest. Finding likeminded peers to support the core vision and goals of a new organization is relatively easy. Finding those who will sacrifice time and energy for a cause, with zero guarantee of successful execution, is harder… much harder.
I joined IDR last spring as a new masters student at Tech. Why IDR? My research interests and personal career passions rely heavily on molding the expertise of researchers from a wide array of traditional fields. Ecologists, engineers, chemists, geologists, sociologists, economists, and public health experts – all are required to address the complexities of water resource quality, quantity, and consumption. Unrestricted to my field of research, it has become increasingly
evident that collaboration between scientists with different backgrounds and specialties may be the key to solving complex puzzles. No one scientist or discipline has the answer. Alternately, 100 scientists and 100 disciplines will not have the answer… unless there is a constant exchange of ideas. This is why the IDR society exists: to connect academic departments, to connect scholars, and to open an avenue for cross-discipline dialogue.
While IDR membership is growing and the current members are some of the most passionate people I know, hosting any campus function is quite taxing. With mammoth goals to unite top administrators, leading scholars on campus and beyond, and the entire student body (undergraduate and graduate) and to then to enable stimulating and productive dialogue about interdisciplinary research, is no simple task. Fueled only by a passion to facilitate these discussions, IDR members (past and present) work tirelessly to bring these brand new and incredibly large events to campus. Event organization is clearly a progressive process that will be refined over time and divided amongst a larger member base. However, I would argue that it doesn’t have to be perfected. As the first society of its kind in the nation, IDR strongly values developing a professional exterior. It is my opinion, that even more valuable, is the opportunity to realize our society’s mission at every event and meeting. While somewhat (completely) biased, I would like to applaud the campus community for collectively achieving our goal at the IDR Symposium on November 2nd. We revealed widespread support to reconnect the university and facilitate communication within academia as a whole .
The November Symposium united a broad range of experienced “interdisciplinarians” with an incredibly (and intimidatingly?) bright group of students showcasing their interdisciplinary research on campus. A truly unique event allows for unique and challenging dialogue to take place. How often have you witnessed the following group of people in one room sharing perspective on one question: What are the biggest challenges and misconceptions of interdisciplinary research?
- an expert with 40+ years of experience on interdisciplinary studies from Miami University (thank you Dr. Newell!)
- a faculty lead on VT’s new Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program (IGEP): Water INTERface (thank you Dr. Davy!)
- the founding director of the Office of Undergraduate Research (thank you Dr. Vess!)
- a professor of Forest Inventory and GIS investigating natural resource management (thank you Dr. Prisley!)
- a professor of Philosophy and faculty of the ASPECT Program (thank you Dr. Moehler!)
- a professor of Mechanical Engineering in bio-inspired technology (thank you Dr. Müller!)
- a distinguished biological sciences professor who helped launch VT’s Integrated Science Curriculum for undergraduates (thank you Dr. Tyson!)
- a professor in engineering science and mechanics researching flying snakes (thank you Dr. Socha!)
Yes, that’s a long-winded list, but how incredible that all it took was a group of motivated students to bring those great minds together! Of course without the interest and enthusiasm of the symposium attendees, the interactive dialogue would not exist.
In short, this autumn’s IDR Symposium was a huge success and IDR only hopes to increase participation and passion for interdisciplinary research at our next big event in April – IDR Day! These occasions intend to help broaden our understanding of what it means to become an “interdisciplinarian” while enjoying some foundations of academia – exploration, exchange, experience, and, of course, excitement!