Better living through multidisciplinarity

One of the coolest things, for me, about the Nicholas School is that it houses people with really diverse backgrounds and skill sets.  This makes it easy to interact and work with people whose interests include not only ecology, but science of all stripes, including geology, toxicology, political science, public policy, and social sciences, just to name a few.

Not only is it interesting and challenging (in a good way!) to have representatives from all of these disciplines housed in our department, but it also gives a nod to the fact that multidisciplinary approaches are useful, and probably required, to solve most of the environmental problems and questions that we try to solve and answer.  Managing and protecting endangered big cat populations, for example, requires understanding of subjects including conservation genetics (to determine the viability of different populations), landscape ecology (to investigate how land-use change and landscape pattern affect populations), and sociology (to understand how local populations interact with endangered populations, and how community-based conservation efforts can be effective), just to name a few.

Even less “applied” questions (more about the basic/applied dichotomy in a future post) also often require input from diverse disciplines. Understanding the phenomenon of urban homogenization, in which cities tend to be more similar to one other than to their surrounding landscapes, requires input, tools, and metrics from ecology, biogeochemistry, sociology-economics, and demography, among others.

These multidisciplinary approaches, beyond being crucial to question-answering and problem-solving, are also important in the creativity part of the scientific process (more about the importance of creativity in science in a future post), generating interesting and important question.

This semester, I’m super-excited to take this multidisciplinary approach even further than the Nicholas School.  I’m working as a teaching assistant for the University course, Water in Changing World.  As someone who spends most of her academic life thinking about water from a relatively narrow freshwater ecological/biogeochemical perspective, I’m really looking forward to gaining perspectives on water from faculty and students with expertise in art, medicine, history, public policy, business, and law, just to name a few.

Here’s to a great spring semester!

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