TITLE: SIGCSE Day 3 -- Interdisciplinary Research
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 28, 2010 6:15 PM
[A transcript of the
Table of Contents]
My SIGCSE seem to come to an abrupt end Saturday morning.
After a week of long days, I skipped a
last run in Milwaukee
and slept in a bit. The front desk messed up my bill, so
I spent forty-five minutes wangling for my guaranteed rate.
As a result, I missed the
session and arrived just in time for some time meeting with
colleagues at the exhibits during the morning break. This
left me time for one last session before my planned pre-luncheon
I chose to attend the special session called
Interdisciplinary Computing Education
for the Challenges of the Future,
with representatives of the National Science Foundation who
have either carried out funded interdisciplinary research or
who have funded and managed interdisciplinary programs. The
purpose of the session was to discuss...
... the top challenges and potential solutions to the problem
of educating students to develop interdisciplinary computing
skills. This includes a computing perspective to
interdisciplinary problems that enables us to think deeply
about difficult problems and at the same time engage well
under differing disciplinary perspectives.
This session contributed to the
of computer science looking outward, both for research and
education. I found it quite interesting and, of course,
think the problems it discussed are central to what people
in CS should be thinking about these days. I only wish my
mind had been more into the talk that morning.
Three ideas stayed with me as my conference closed:
This panel was a most excellent way to end my conference, with
many thoughts about how to work with CS colleagues to develop
projects that engage colleagues in other disciplines.
Pretty soon after the close of this session I was on the road
home, whether repacked my bags and headed off for a few days
of spring break with my family in St. Louis. This trip was
a wonderful break, though ten days too early to see my UNI
Panthers end their breakout season
with an amazing run.
- One panelist made a great comment in the spirit of
looking outward. Paraphrase: While we in CS argue
about what "computational thinking" means, we should
embrace the diversity of computational thinking
done out in the world and reach out to work with partners
in many disciplines.
- Another panelist commented on the essential role that
computing plays in other disciplines. He used biology
as his example. Paraphrase: To be a biologist these
days requires that you understand simulation, modeling,
and how to work with large databases. Working with large
databases is the defining characteristic of social
science these days.
- Many of the issues that challenge computer scientists who
want to engage in interdisciplinary research of this sort
are ones we have encountered for a long time. For instance,
how can a computer scientist find the time to gain all of
the domain knowledge she needs?
Other challenges follow from how people on either side of
the research view the computer scientist's role. Computer
science faculties that make tenure and promotion decisions
often do not see research value in interdisciplinary
research. The folks on the applied side often contribute
to this by viewing the computer science as a tool builder
or support person, not as an integral contributor to
solving the research problem. I have seen this problem
firsthand while helping members of my department's faculty
try to contribute to projects outside of our department.