My Path Through Research

The Trials and Triumphs of Doing a PhD

Interdisciplinarity: Science and Art

Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence is one of many courses offered through the UCL graduate school skills development programme. I have so far been to three of the sessions in the series, on being a general session on interdisciplinarity, and the other two on evidence in statistics and computer modelling.

Late last month I went to another session in the series: Using Science to Understand Art: Contexts and Communication. It’s taken me quite some time to get round to writing about it. This is not only because I have been busy, but because I needed time to think about what was said.

During the course, Ruth Siddall, the course tutor, spoke about her experience as a geologist working with people in museums (arts). Her research interests deal with the identification of pigments, minerals, mortars and rocks. She spoke about how her skills as a geologist have come in useful in her work, but at the same time, how she needed to adapt to communicate with people in a different field.

However, something she was saying wasn’t sounding quite right to me, at least in the way I am experiencing interdisciplinarity in my work. Something felt jarring, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time. I am still not sure I do! However, I think it has very much to do with how she views herself and how I am encouraged to view myself in my work.

She constantly referred to herself as a scientist (geologist) working with people in the arts. She quite readily and clearly identified herself with the field she has a strong background in: geology. Something which has been niggling me about the way I am encouraged to view myself is that there is a strong desire to see me describe myself as a ‘heritage scientist’ (with the caveat that ‘heritage’ is not an adjective describing the noun ‘scientist’). However, my only background in ‘heritage science’ is that I am working within the field whilst frantically scrabbling around to try to grasp at numerous strands of knowledge I feel are important. Is that enough?

Also, what does being a ‘heritage scientist’ mean in practice? What should I consider to be my strong point? Should it be the science? Or should it be the heritage field? I strongly suspect that the suggestion is that I should consider both to be a strong point. But where does that leave me? It leaves me pretty much falling into nothingness…or does it?

There is still quite a lot I feel I need to digest from that session and from everything I have been absorbing and feeling throughout my PhD. The session pushed me into thinking about things more coherently and systematically. That surely can only be a good thing. People say that a PhD is a journey, and I feel that this is an important part of my journey that I need to come to grips with.

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What Evidence? Computer Modelling?

Yesterday I attended another of the Skills development Courses I am expected to attend (and no, I have enough to cover this year…but when i see something interesting I still like to attend). It was another course from the Interdisciplinary Studies of Evidence series of which I attended one last year. This time, the course, presented by Emma Byrne, was about Computational modelling: man-made evidence.

I attended this course as I am and will be using computer modelling in my work. Computer Modelling is essential in a number of fields, including prediction of data based on a dataset you already have, as well as to be able to build models to mimic a process you are investigating. In the course these different aspects of a computer model were presented, I must say in a very entertaining, though useful and exact manner. We were also given some time to discuss our ideas of what computer models may be and what are the reasons for their use, as well as to discuss what makes a ‘good model’ (if there ever is such a thing).

All in all a very enlightening, interesting and stimulating course, what with a mix of theory, case studies and discussion in just the right amounts. I was impressed! I must say this is probably one of the better courses I’ve attended as part of the graduate school courses. It was a last minute decision to attend, but I definitely do not regret it!

The Effect of New Behaviour

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