Some days I wonder if I misread the description and accidentally applied to a biology REU. Applied math by definition is interdisciplinary- you need something to apply that math to-, but I underestimated the extent to which other disciplines come into play. While I have picked up quite a few new math skills, most of my gained knowledge has been focused in the fields of biology and computer science. For the last week or so, I've mostly been reading biology papers and coding- and I find that awesome. After all, I chose to attend a liberal arts college for a reason. Some of the most interesting classes I've taken have been rather discussion-based and somewhat student-led. I find it interesting to see and experience different perspectives. How does a biology major read Frankenstein compared to an English major? How can psychology help us realize why so many people seem to dislike math?
I was able to experience this shift in perspective from both sides this week. When I shadowed the anthropology team, I was reminded of the human factor in the equation. All of the disciplines I am studying this summer are rather data driven, some of the real-word implications are lost when a story is stripped down to the numbers. While we're working to predict blooms, they are collecting the stories of how people are affected by the blooms. When the Econ team visited, we got to see how those who have not been exposed to the background of the problem and the math behind it react to our work. It will help us immensely when it come times to tell our story to the community.
Exposure to the unfamiliar helps us to see what biases and perspectives we may take for granted. An interdisciplinary approach may push you into vastly unfamiliar territory. It pushes your boundaries of your knowledge and encourages you to think critically, explore new paths, and recognize when you are out of your depth and need to ask for help.