Today, I had a chance to read two excellent pieces:
First is the NYT article by Nicholas Kristof: Professors, We Need You! It discuss how we professors have marginalized ourselves or made us largely irrelevant to public and issues at large.
Second one in the Guardian is by a PhD student Sarah Byrne titled Interdisciplinary research: why it's seen as a risky route. It discusses, fairly accurately, that while funding agencies and academic leaders give lip service to interdisciplinary research or even encourage it, at an individual level, it can be a very risky and at times very difficult choice for PhD students and young faculty to conduct interdisciplinary work.
As I review what we increasingly do that the Kno.e.sis center, I am wondering if we can do things differently? For one, a large percent of our research portfolio is targeted towards addressing significant human, social and/or economic development issues/challenges where our advances in computing (especially, Big and Smart Data Sciences involving physical, cyber and social data) help inform policy, make better decisions and take timely actions. We do take care to have significant rigor in computing research as part of our interdisciplinary work as exemplified by our graduates' dissertations (e.g., see Cory Henson's work on Semantic Perception that is used in our personalized digital health projects mentioned below). Perhaps we have avoided the traps discussed in the two articles if we use the outcomes for our PhDs as the evidence-- they have been getting top-tier jobs in academia or industry research labs/R&D labs, and some have felt confident enough to jump into high-tech entrepreneurship fairly early in their careers.
Here is a list of what we do at Kno.e.sis with focus on social and cyber data:
- Coordination during disasters
- Harassment on social media
- Prescription drug abuse
- Depressive disorders
- Gender-based violence (esp violence against women)
- Issue based political engagement in Indian Election
And out list of projects with focus on sensor/IoT data include personalized digital health projects to
- reduce hospital readmission of Acute Decompensated Heart Failure patients
- understand/predict asthma episodes in children
All above projects involve real-world data, real participants (e.g. patients), end-user or domain scientist usable tools/applications, and collaborations with domain experts/influential institutions such as UN (UNDP/UNF), QCRI, Crisis Response organizations/NGOs, clinicians (cardiologists and asthma specialists at Ohio State U & Wright State U), epidemiologists at CITAR, ER physicians and toxicologists, cognitive scientists, material scientists, and more.
Some more thoughts appear in: Interdisciplinary research - learning from the success of Steve Jobs . A partial list of multidisciplinary projects at Kno.e.sis .