Interdisciplinary ideas can and should be pitched in this competition. Here’s why.

Interdisciplinary ideas may be the best approach to the big challenges of our time. Two Skolarists tell why they chose to pitch ideas that involved collaboration across scientific borders.

Interdisciplinary Skolar 2019

When Amber Geurts was doing her postdoc research at Aalto University she happened to need a picture of AI for a paper she was working on. She ordered some pictures from a graphic designer, and once she saw the results she knew she had arrived at something important. The pictures showed that designers didn’t really understand what AI is and how it works.

“I then understood the difficulty of describing and visualizing AI in a way that makes sense to people and decided something needs to be done.”

With an ambitious idea of visualizing AI together with computer scientists and designers and then analysing the data with socio-cultural methodologies Geurts applied for Research Pitching Competition 2018 and was selected as one of the 8 finalists. She sees interdisciplinary essential when making research.

“In my opinion, the most valuable contributions can be realized when scholars meet scientists from other scientific disciplines and combine expertise to create new, valuable insights”, Geurts says.

Foivos Perakis, another Research Pitching Competition 2018 finalist, also saw the competition as an opportunity to do an interdisciplinary project. He wanted to combine chemical physics with social sciences. Perakis’ idea was to make a case study of Stockholm using a cryo-desalination method to ensure clean and safe water.

“In my research I wanted to create a dialogue between scientific fields that typically remain isolated from each other in the study of water.”

Perakis thinks interdisciplinary is also a chance to get out of the comfort zone of a researcher.

“I think that interdisciplinary research is the best way to make scientists think of the big picture behind their research and transfer knowledge between disciplines”, he says.

Tackling big problems with an interdisciplinary approach

Perakis, who nowadays works as an assistant professor of Chemical Biophysics at the University of Stockholm, thinks more and more research will have interdisciplinary character in the future.

“It’s an essential requirement for addressing big questions, such as challenges related to climate change.”

Also Geurts sees interdisciplinary research as an answer to the biggest technological challenges of our lifetime created by digitalization, AI, virtual and augmented reality, quantum technologies – just to name a few.

“These technologies, and the innovations they enable, will have tremendous effects on our society. Aside from scientific and technological progress, we need to address the societal and cultural consequences of such technologies. This is why in my opinion interdisciplinary research is so important now”, Geurts says.

That’s why she sees Slush, the main venue of the Research Pitching Competition finale, as a perfect place to present interdisciplinary ideas and address societal concerns with emerging technologies.

“As a social scientist, I would encourage applicants to think beyond scientific progress. What does your research mean for society, business, the environment? If your message is clear and impactful, Research Pitching Competition is the platform to launch your idea to a wider community than your academic discipline”, Geurts says.

Even though Geurts didn’t win the grand prize of the competition, she is still working on her research idea. Besides that interdisciplinary has become even more essential part of her life than before. She is now organizing an interdisciplinary AI-course and later in the autumn launching an AI-exhibition at Aalto University.