My Scientist Specialization Identity Crisis

The Scientist Identity

I recently listened to the Systems Biology Nature podcast.

Systems biology is mathematical modeling of biological systems (even at the molecular/gene level) with the intention of reproducing emergent properties in complex living systems. These mathematical systems could  combine everything from gene regulatory networks to crazy metabolic networks into one glorious approximated abomination of biology. This research could lead to at least two great things:

  1. Spore 2 (check out local guest blogger Kate’s Spore creature gallery)
  2. Accurate evolution simulations, ie. new opportunities for creationist bashing

Systems biology is a perfect example of a new multidisciplinary field. It combines the work of mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, bioinformaticians, biochemists, molecular biologists, cell biologists, and geneticists. Even a philosophy major could probably slip into the team undetected for a little while!

As grad school selection approaches and life decisions loom above like an angry sun, it really begs the question: Should one be specializing or diversifying ones skill set?

Sure, you could diversify (your bonds) and learn about computer science and physics like me, or you could specialize the old fashion way and join some miraculous science collaboration dream team to work on cutting edge science.

The case for diversifying is argued nicely in a PLoS essay entitled: “Antedisciplinary Science“. (Hat tip!)

It turns out that antedisciplinary science aligns nicely with the ideal Jacks of Science “Jack of all trades” blogging philosophy:

Perhaps the whole idea of interdisciplinary science is the wrong way to look at what we want to encourage. What we really mean is “antedisciplinary” science—the science that precedes the organization of new disciplines, the Wild West frontier stage that comes before the law arrives.

The essay was written by a computational biologist and the topic really hits home for me. By next April I’ll have graduated with equal amounts of physics and computer science credits thanks to University of Waterloo’s free-spirited computational science program. But I’m kinda doomed. I don’t have the expected skillset of a physics major or of a computer science major if I choose to go to grad school for either.

I should have specialized in something!

Why am I currently researching computational chemistry!?

Why do I plan to study polymer physics next term!?

Who am I!?

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