Sailing to an Interdisciplinary Research – My Expedition

After five relentless months of meetings, interviews, and presentations, I was handed an offer letter to join a renowned academic institute to conduct interdisciplinary research. Was the journey from being a master’s student to a Ph.D. candidate smooth? Hmmm, quite the contrary. Was it worth the anguish? Yes, it was the most invaluable and rewarding adventure and transition I observed as a student and a human being.

A brown board with Post-its and slogan - "Make things happen."
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

The big fat question – Why?

If you would ask me, Sweety, why did you choose a subject you know nothing about before? Then my answer is – I dreamt. I dreamt big and far. To put me out there, know more, and learn how things beyond my expertise are done. I wanted to integrate my aptitude into something that would give me those warm feelings of satisfaction that one would love to get at the end of a busy day. I graduated in computer science, and I wanted to give something back to the community via my work. That was the whole point.

So, I dug into some fields of studies where I could be both a computer and a helpful scientist. Below are some highlights of my five-month journey in interdisciplinary research.

Selected topics of interest

I merely did not want to be a computer scientist in any field. I looked for 2 to 3 topics outside of my background that fell under the radar of my curiosity. Some of those are Medical Imaging, Autonomous Driving, Climatology, etc. I measured my inclination towards a topic based on:

  • How much previous knowledge do I have? – any course work was taken during my master’s or bachelors
  • If I have zero background knowledge, am I willing to learn it?
  • What kind of research papers are being published under this domain?
  • Does this excite me?
  • Am I willing to publish such papers?

So, honestly, I had to journal to understand what I truly wanted to do.

Identified my strength

This is a huge point which I would like to highlight. I did have Imposter syndrome, and I did not give myself enough credit for what I had achieved. So, my journaling continued, and I realized that I could go to a new field and bring my knowledge of computer science with me. I could

  • build mathematical models to solve given problem statement
  • leverage programming knowledge to build scientific softwares
  • enhance the visualisation paradigm

The list is not limited to these three points, and I realize I can even do more after having started my Ph.D. successfully. I honestly appreciated the critique in me but did not let it sabotage my plans for interdisciplinary research.

Kept my eyes open for potential research groups

Google became my ally. I searched for people in Germany who worked in the corresponding domain. I scanned research labs or groups at University or even Professors that work on those topics. I found so many exceptional institutes in Germany itself. To mention a few: Klinikum an der Isar (TUM), University of Augsburg, GEOMAR, etc. To know a lab better, I checked:

  • How active is the group leader in publishing? Do their names come at least in the third position?
  • How many Ph.D. students are there and what are their research focus?
  • Do they offer any projects which excite and motivate me?

Interdisciplinary work is difficult. I must accept it. The quality of research and work-life balance of a Ph.D. candidate truly depends on the research lab and how it is managed. A good lab will give you easy access to a prominent conference journal for publishing your work. A good supervisor will make you create a healthy work environment. Maybe I will make a detailed post on it sometime later.

Asked questions

I am a scientist, and I found out that I am truly good at it. I asked questions. A lot. To a lot of people. If I have to summarize, I

  • talked to friends and colleagues with a similar mindset.
  • reached out to people on social media – via LinkedIn and even on Instagram.
  • collected opinions of other Ph.D. students including my master thesis advisor.

My journaling resumed. I made a list of pros and cons. I compared them with the people I have talked to. I collected so many experiences stories of both triumph and disappointment. Nonetheless, I decided I would still make the journey of both success and failure.

Prepared the necessary documents

Like any other job, Ph.D. applications also need preparation and many records. I assembled my CV, Research Statement, and Letter of Motivation according to the post requirement. A few things that I made sure to pay attention to were

  • Highlighting my related and relevant research and work experiences
  • Verifying my CV, and Letter of Motivation by friends and Uni career mentors
  • Asking for Letter of Recommendations from my former Supervisors of different projects

I can write another blog explaining how I prepared my documents in detail. These documents became the face of the scientist I wanted to be. I did not hold back; I expressed my genuine desire to be in that position.

Took a leap of faith and applied for the position!

I know I tend to be a perfectionist and keep checking things until they are hundred percent ready. But this time, I determined I would let it go. I applied with the documents that made me laugh and feel content. I was called for interviews. I presented related projects concerning the position and attended various discussions. The interactions were very engaging and made me acknowledge the depth I could contribute as a computer scientist.

No one had said it would be easy. The search for a Ph.D. topic and a position was a journey I made within myself. I had to let go of so many limiting sentiments that were not worthy of being inside me. I made space for adventure and joy of giving back to the scientific community. This is the beginning, and many more to come.

Sweety Mohanty

Computer Scientist | Ph.D. Candidate at GEOMAR | Avid reader | Hiking and Cooking

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