Working Outline of ICB paper

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Working Outline of ICB paper

Post  Admin on Tue Jan 17, 2012 5:13 pm

1. Overview / Introduction

2. Training and Mentoring

2a. Undergraduate students

2b. Graduate students

2c. Postdoctoral fellows

2d. Junior faculty

3. Curriculum development

4. Grants and funding

4a. Opportunities through the Army [Virginia].

4b. Opportunities through NSF (Math Biology, UMB, IGERT ??)

4c. Opportunities through NIH

4d. Burroughs Wellcome Fund [Laura]

5. Finding a job

6. Research and collaboration

7. Initiatives that could enhance interdisciplinary


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Outline of discussion from Silas Alben

Post  Admin on Sun Feb 26, 2012 12:52 pm

Aravind: UNC math was very engineering oriented, w/gadgets. Math--intimidating, change of research area from physics to bio. No math degree. Cope with making the best of just the right amount of resources. Thinking in a more fundamental sciene way.

Peko: Physics/Math/ME

Virginia: Bio prog. officer at ARO.
ARO Areas: Any math/stat in proposal -> math division. No biophysics. Biomath-> mechanistic modeling of biological systems.
Cofund other biomath areas. Theoretical ecology background.
Thrust areas--project which will be of use in 10-15 years, not yet covered by NSF, other areas.

P: Don't define self by dept. Transition to ME fine with background in physics. Defined by research you're doing, not dept. At Princeton, physics only 4 classes per semester (?). ME at heart. Look for people doing interesting work, not area.

V: ARO- laws which are true across systems and scales. cellular motility, wound healing, multiscale modeling.

Ques: How to get engineering/math students comfortable with the messiness of biological data?

Ans: Get people exposed to different views/cultures.

--Is earlier exposure valuable?

Undergrad biomath experiences
More intro courses across fields
Get more math/phys/eng students into bio

Ques: How should a beginning grad student in engineering get into bio?

P: Find collaborators. Look at bioinspired systems. Look for overlap with earlier work.

Teaching in a dept. that wasn't your major: team teach first semester, met w/mentor 2x/week.

Bio students <- make more quantitive. Bio students are more comfortable with approximations.

A: UNC biocalc.--involve actual phenomena.

Ellner & Guckenheimer -- matlab too fast

--If math doesn't get reinforced in other bio classes, difficult.

Put simple formulas in mathematica at start. Build up in mathematica through many classes. Gradual, start early, force them (bio students) to do it (math). Make math concrete.

Ques: How to get bio to use statistics more properly? Have more fundamental math classes.

Army: multidisciplinary initiative.

Ques: How to start collaborations

Ans: Write grants together, invite to give seminars, try many possible collaborations before settling.

Comment: We don't have structures enhancing collaborations. Try inviting people outside your field to conferences. Oxbridge: high table, meet people in other fields.

Most likely to collaborate with the person next to you, regardless of field.

Ques: How to lower barrier to math jargon/bio jargon.

Ans: Put different students together.
--Bioinformatics class at NYU, trouble w/integration/RNA.
Attend seminars by younger PhD students.

Comment: interviewing as an interdisciplinary person: Help them project
forward on how you'll be successful in 10 years, how you fit in a field.

Ques: How to grants as interdisciplinary person. Too applied/pure.

Ans: Show you are doing bio/eng different from what you could do on separate grants. Working where physics can change bio and vice versa. NSF: need "serious math"--not just toy models--and "serious biology", for high quality interdisciplinary work. NSF panels sometimes don't have the expertise to judge. Interdisciplinary--can be more vulnerable to criticisms. Propose more organic collaborations, with grad students in different fields working together.

Comment: Bioinspired design class: makes students more creative. Students: how interdisciplinary vs. experts.

Comment: You can (should) have depth and interdisciplinarity. How it's judged depends on the culture of the institution.

Comment: Being interdisciplinary is harder in mid-tier places, which are more traditional, put people in boxes. Top places are more open to interdisciplinary people.

Steven Vogel/Ty Hedrick--website with instructional material.

Ques: It seems clear that biorobotics is going to be a major field. Why don't agencies beyond DARPA support it more? Why don't other agencies support interdisciplinary work?

Comment: Do the research you want and sell it how the agency wants.

Comm: We should be better communicators with the public and funding agencies

Last edited by Admin on Sun Feb 26, 2012 3:54 pm; edited 1 time in total


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Margaret's notes

Post  Admin on Sun Feb 26, 2012 1:05 pm

Workshop: Working at the Interface of Math and Biology

Panelist Questions:

LM: What are some of the challenges and rewards associated with working at the interface of math and biology?
 Challenges: Intimidating, difference in resource availability
 Rewards: Breadth, seeing things from different perspectives
 “I guess Math departments don't have sinks sometimes.”

LM: What is biomathematics?
 Seek to fund basic science research
 Thrust areas: fundamental laws of biology, molecular and cell biology/computational biology, multiscale modeling, and transient phenomena
 If anything has biology in it, it will make it to her!

LM: How do you decide what department to work in?
 Try to make a match with the research you're currently doing, regardless of what you got your degrees in
 Don't limit yourself... look for people doing interesting work in the field
 Joint appointment between Mechanical Engineering/Math increases grant eligibility

LM: What is it like having a lab in a math department and collaborating with biologists?
 Collaborations work when everyone is getting something interesting out of it
 A math graduate program is not set up to train experimentalists... using undergrads is helpful
◦ Younger (math) undergrads are often more open to experimenting, less settled on theory

General discussion
 Understanding what mathematicians value can be difficult
 To start off in an interdisciplinary field, the key is to find collaborators and common ground
◦ Get ideas from talking to others
◦ Try stuff! Sometimes it won't work.
 Discussion about when to begin teaching interdisciplinarity (?) [some divergence of opinion here... people worry that if it is introduced too early, students will lack breadth-- too late, and they will be unable to communicate with people in other fields]
◦ [long discussion of how to teach interdisciplinary courses/prepare students for interdisciplinary work... consensus that reinforcement is important]
 “Interdisciplinary” vs. “multidisciplinary”
◦ How to promote collaboration/interdisciplinary work? Write grants together, then you will be forced to collaborate if funded. Some grants require an interdisciplinary component.
 Collaborations in general--they don't work if:
◦ People don't connect on a human level. It is impossible to administrate collaborations from the top down.
◦ The people involved could do the same work independently
▪ There must be a “value-added” idea!
▪ If the two (or more) collaborators do not do richer, better work together BECAUSE of the collaboration, they should just work alone.
▪ Funding agencies know this. If the collaboration is simply “you do your thing, I do mine,” it is not interdisciplinary and will not be funded.

Additional thoughts
It seems like the challenges of interdisciplinary work-- in educating students, searching for jobs (and then tenure), getting funding, and successfully navigating the academic world-- require an integrated solution. Many of these challenges are coupled in some way, and many do not have obvious solutions. For example, the question of education raises several issues: is it necessary to teach math to biology students? If so, how much? Could it then be argued that it is necessary to teach biology to math students? Perhaps not, since math can be viewed as a vital tool for studying biology whereas biology is perhaps not necessary for a mathematician, except those who choose to specialize in it later on.

It also seems to me that most of the difficulty of working at the interface of math and biology stems from its lack of acceptance as a traditional interdisciplinary field. Many mainstream fields of study today are no longer regarded as interdisciplinary, but as disciplines in their own right. After all, what is chemical engineering but work at the interface of chemistry and engineering? What is engineering but work at the interface of applied math and physics? This prompts the question: what really constitutes an academic discipline? What is an interdisciplinary field? More and more of these academic chimeras emerge with each passing year, and many have passed into the domain of accepted fields: neuroscience, women's studies, information technology, and more. These fields, have their own classes and funding agencies and departments and jobs because over time, they have gained academic and popular acceptance as distinct disciplines. Biophysics, biostatistics, and biochemistry are beginning to be recognized as fields in their own right-- perhaps biomath will be next. However, I'm not sure how we should go about speeding up this process of public acceptance, or whether there is anything to do but wait. SICB has already recognized Comparative Biomechanics as a distinct division, so perhaps it is only a matter of time before everyone else does too.


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