By Brian Simanek
I recently had a conversation with a colleague and former classmate of mine in the computer science department at my university. He described his work to me as “basically conformal geometry,” a field in which I am not an expert, but nonetheless one I find interesting. After discussing research some more, we both decided that our respective departments could benefit from increased communication. We discussed possible ways to increase communication such as attending seminars and classes in other departments, but the bulk of the discussion centered around how to structure a presentation – however brief or informal – for an audience outside our own field and with different motivations.
As a mathematician, I consider the proofs of new results to be as worthy of merit as the results themselves, and sometimes more so. Applied scientists often focus more on results and potential applications (even “abstract” applications). We concluded that one of the primary obstacles in the minds of many scientists that precludes interdisciplinary communication is the feeling that their objects of study will not live up to the expectations of an audience in a different field.
Many scientists and researchers have had a great deal of success promoting interdisciplinary communication between many fields. I am aware of seminars and conferences that exist and are devoted to interdisciplinary science and I know of some awards that are given to projects or collaborations that transcend traditional boundaries. Indeed interdisciplinary communication is often a very fruitful way to advance the state of knowledge and we should always look for opportunities to present our research to specialists outside of mathematics.