Guest Blog: Why focus on Cancer this IDR Day?

Kate LeBoeuf is a Community Manager with the American Cancer Society. In addition to staffing the Relay For Life at Virginia Tech, she works throughout the New River Valley to connect newly diagnosed patients with programs and services designed to make treatment easier. Kate LeBoeuf will also be staffing the 2nd Cancer Research Symposium at Virginia Tech planned for Fall 2013. For more information about these events or how the American Cancer Society can help you, please call (540) 774-2716 or email


The American Cancer Society is the largest private funder of cancer research. When we make decisions about who to fund, we fund the research of sociologists who study disparities in diagnosis. We fund engineers who are developing new technologies for drug deliveries. We fund biologists working to understand the cancer cell. We fund psychologists studying late effects of cancer in children. But more than that, the American Cancer Society recruits social workers to help patients navigate health care systems. We recruit community members to help eliminate direct barriers between patients and treatment. We recruit lawyers to protect the rights of patients. We recruit lobbyists to expand the protection of patients. The soldiers in the fight against cancer are not the scientists. The fight against cancer requires the energy and attention of our entire nation and individuals from every discipline. Collaboration and determination will find the cure. This is how we save lives. And this is why the cancer focus of IDR Day is such an important step in including the entire academic community in a public health crisis that touches everyone. Innovative solutions come from fresh perspective and creative thinkers. The participants in this event possess both. It is our hope that exposing a wide variety of disciplines to these current cancer challenges will shed some real light on new solutions.

An Illuminating Talk about Virginia Tech’s Smart, Sustainable LumenHaus, with Dr. Denis Gracanin

Elizabeth_SavageElizabeth Savage is currently an M.S. student in Biomedical Engineering pursuing work in Dr. Rafael Davalos’ lab on contactless dielectrophoretic (cDEP) microfluidic technology for rapid isolation of tumor-initiating cancer cells. She is also a member of the MultiSTEPS interdisciplinary program, in which trainees are prepared to solve problems at the intersection of biology and engineering through interdisciplinary coursework and research experience, while building an interactive community of students and professors from diverse disciplines. Elizabeth is the spotlight speaker series chair.


Our first Spotlight Speaker Seminar was given by Dr. Denis Gracanin, Associate Professor of Virginia Tech’s Computer Science department. It was a fascinating discussion of the need for an interdisciplinary perspective to build an environmentally sustainable home that is smart and can be controlled virtually. This home takes inhabitant-centered living to a whole new level, where doors can be opened and TVs turned on simply by gestures. Using pre-set programs, energy usage can be adapted for long-term conservation efforts or for short-term needs like hosting parties, meeting environmental and economic constraints while remaining flexible in catering to the personal desires of the inhabitants.

 He discussed with humor and insight the need for humility and openness during interdisciplinary efforts. Dr. Gracanin noted how his thinking was changed by collaborating with colleagues from other disciplines. In this case, the result of the collaboration among architecture, computer science, electrical engineering, and other disciplines was an award-winning smart solar house that was Virginia Tech’s entry into the 2009 Solar Decathlon.

Attendees were inspired, based on the lively question-and-answer session followed the speaker’s talk. A video recording of Dr. Gracanin’s talk will be available on the IDR website. For more information about LumenHaus, visit or

Our next Spotlight Speaker will be Friday March 29, with Dr. Laura Jackson of the EPA.

Communicating Science 2013: A Workshop for Graduate Students

When: June 13-15, 2013

Where: Cambridge, MA


Workshop Description:
Communicating Science is a workshop organized by graduate students for graduate students focused on science communication skills. The workshop will emphasize written communication in particular and be held from Thursday, June 13, 2013 until Saturday, June 15, 2013 in Cambridge, MA. We welcome applications from science graduate students interested in learning how to effectively communicate their research to both scientific and non-scientific audiences.

The 2.5 day workshop for 50 graduate students will feature panels by science and communications experts, writing workshops, and numerous opportunities to interact directly with the expert panelists. As part of the workshop, attendees will draft science compositions and receive feedback from the experts and other attendees.

Funding is available to support travel expenses, lodging, and meals for a limited number of attendees; all interested science and engineering students nationwide are encouraged to apply.

If you have any questions about the workshop, please contact us at

Why does Iota Delta Rho host the IDR Symposium in autumn and IDR Day in spring?

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!

Science Magazine on personal interdisciplinary challenges

“Perspective: Troubled by Interdisciplinarity?”

Do program managers and senior faculty tell you “that idea is not really in my bailiwick, and I’m not sure where else to send you”? Do you spend more time choosing a publication venue than writing your paper? Are you asked to be on committees and panels to provide a “fresh perspective” — and then told you spend too much time on service? Is your e-mail full of correspondence about how to handle overhead, subawards, and subcontracts on collaborative proposals? … continue reading