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A New Breed of Scientists

| 11 June 2014 | Sebastian Feller


In 2010 I have begun my work here at the Institute of High Performance Computing (IHPC) in Singapore. Back then I joined the Social Situation Awareness (SSA) group. The main research target was to build a tutor robot for language learning. But not just any kind of robot; no, we set out to make a socially intelligent robot, i.e. a robot that, for example, understands and responds to the userís emotive and motivational states and that furthermore has its own personality and also reads the userís personality.

My work in the SSA group changed my view of linguistics radically. More and more I learned that disciplinary boundaries are of little use. In order to tackle the problems we faced, it was mandatory for us to go beyond oneís own discipline and to open up to ideas and thoughts from other fields and research areas. This was also reflected in the highly multidisciplinary character of our group. I worked together with social psychologists, educational designers, computer scientists, mechanical engineers, and computer vision experts, to name a few. It proved absolutely necessary to see beyond oneís own nose in order to communicate across the distinct team members. For example, I had to familiarize myself with theories in psychology and educational science with a view to getting the job done. In the end, each expert needed to connect their ideas to a bigger whole. We all became all-rounders and had to learn each otherís language and way of thinking.

I believe that being an all-rounder scientist will be a major asset for scientists in the near future. In the real world problems are not demarcated along clear-cut disciplinary boundaries. In contrast, real-world problems are complex and their solution more than often requires innovative thinking evolving from diverse streams of thought. New communicative competencies will also become increasingly important. As a scientist, you need to be able to communicative your thoughts and ideas to colleagues that have only a marginal understanding of your field. For me, this has become especially apparent in the context of industry engagement. As here at IHPC we develop solutions and services for industry partners, it is essential that we are able to break down the science we do into a language that a non-scientist actually understands. Vice versa, it becomes important for us to be able to understand what our industry partners are looking for.

I strongly believe that if our work should impact on society and maybe even on the world at large, scientists in general and linguists in particular need to develop a new self-image. We need to step out of the ivory tower and take a look at real-life problems. We need to combine our expertise and need to think in broader terms going beyond our own discipline. These new skills and competencies should also be part of science training. Early career scientist need to learn how to communicate their ideas without hampering jargon. They need to learn how to see the larger picture, combining their expertise with the expertise of others. 
I would like to hear from you what you think about these ideas: please share your personal experiences with us and let us know what you think of the all-rounder scientist.

Comments: fellers(a)ihpc.a-star.edu.sg

Tagsscience, challengestechnology, communicate, multidisciplinary

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