All Together Now: Cannon Crew

Escher’s Circle Limit III, original sketch. Scroll down for the final result! (Or just look at the cover photo). This isn’t related to my project, per se, but it is an interesting example of a “before and after”.

A major part of my initial interest in the Brackenridge program was the community it promised. An interdisciplinary group of bright undergraduates, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, all coming together to explore and share their individual interests. The level of curiosity and ambition I’ve seen these first few weeks has been motivating and inspiring, and I can’t help but feel a strong sense of gratitude for the opportunity to get to know everyone and learn about what they find important.

By engaging with the other recipients, I hope to broaden the scope of topics, issues, and fields that I find interesting or important. I believe it is necessary to constantly challenge your own beliefs and perspectives, and to maintain and open mind when it comes to the experiences of others. I don’t doubt the value in anyone’s project, but I want to come away from this summer with a deeper understanding of the specifics of their projects and why they chose them. I want to learn what motivates them to look for answers, and how that motivation translates to action. I suspect we will all have different ways (both because of the medium and topic, but also because of individual preferences) of achieving our results, and I’m curious to see what these methods are.

The Cannon Crew

The Cannon Crew, as my cohort has affectionately named ourselves after our scholar mentor, Josh Cannon, is an accurate subset of the entire 2020 Brackenridge class. We have a healthy mix of humanities and STEM majors. Broadly, our projects all share a baseline similarity – we hope to learn something and provide some kind of answer or conclusion. I think we are all learning about the exploratory process of research (if we weren’t familiar already) and realizing that it has a kind of ebb and flow to it. I don’t think any of us can fully predict what our final results will be, but I also think there is solidarity in that fact.

The most obvious and easily identifiable difference between our projects is the subject matter. We have majors in math, physics, literature, psychology, nursing, writing, philosophy, German, film & media, and classics! Naturally, this range of backgrounds produces a range of projects. Some of our projects are more quantitative – Mark Farino is measuring particle oscillations, Junyi Gong is analyzing ADHD data, and Kailen Heath is investigating the effects of health literacy on patients. On the other hand, some of our projects have a more qualitative aspect to them – Mikayla Joffe is examining the characterization of mentally ill characters in Russian literature, Sarah Street is studying death and immortality in Middle-earth, and Max Nowalk is scrutinizing constructivism. Even further, we have more personal and creative projects, such as Gray Eden’s radical diaspora poetry project, or Melanie Pantano’s documentary about her grandmother.

In particular, Gray Eden’s project concerning radical diaspora poetry caught my eye. Gray’s introductory post is so well-articulated and their passion for this subject is self-evident. Even with the short introduction, I already feel like I can sense the importance of their work and its implications. I can’t wait to learn more about it!

The Pros and Cons of Interdisciplinary

The Pros:

Communication. We need to be able to understand each other. This means that we all have to explain everything to each other in simple language, which I think is beneficial even within your own field, but often isn’t the case!

Intrigue! It’s interesting to learn about what else is out there, and it’s easy when everything is parsed down to its most essential parts. If your research feels a little monotone, you can check out what everyone else is working on to take a break, refresh your mind, or even get some novel ideas and unlock your next step.

Diversity of thought. I think it’s absolutely critical to value the work and perspectives of others, especially if they are different from your own. Working with others across disciplines constantly exposes you to different ideas, perspectives, and values.

The Cons:

Communication. Sometimes, it can be difficult to fully grasp the meaning or relevance of a topic when you aren’t working directly on it. Sometimes vocabulary (particularly jargon) in one discipline means something else in another. Sometimes we just aren’t (yet) used to the usual way information is described or processed in a discipline not traditionally associated with our own.

Progress report! Comparing yourself to others is never a great idea, but it can sometimes provide you with useful feedback towards your own expectations. When everyone is working on different projects with different goalposts, it is hard to know how your own project is coming along when the projects themselves come in so many different flavors.

We’re only a few weeks in and I already feel a sense of camaraderie with everyone participating in research this summer. I’m excited to get to know everyone and their research further as the summer progresses!

The finished Circle Limit III! Hopefully our projects will go just as well.
Fun fact: Escher was inspired to create Circle Limit III by reading a paper on hyperbolic geometry.

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