The biggest academic goal I had set for myself during the spring semester was to never work past nine o’clock at night. Yet, despite this promise to myself, I found myself intently staring at my computer at midnight on a Thursday night, completely engrossed in the words flashing across my screen. The paper I had been reading discussed the role infrastructure played in both influencing as well as recording changes in society and was recommended to me by my graduate mentor through the Visualizing Cities Lab. However, this was not the only time I became completely absorbed in my learning thanks to VCL because my entire experience with the lab served as a reminder of why I came to Duke in the first place—to push myself to innovate in extraordinary ways.
Of the many valuable lessons I learned throughout my experience with the Visualizing Cities Lab, the most important one is about the interdisciplinary nature of research. With my small research team, we investigated the link between health infrastructure and the spread of cholera in Havana during the 1800’s. As I completed this project, I learned how to incorporate information, skills, and lessons from fields as disparate as art history and data science. In terms of art historical knowledge, I analyzed historical documents, such as letters and catalogs. But, at the same time, I applied data and computer science skills by using visualization software, like ArcGIS and Tableau. Both of these disciplines may appear vastly different on the surface but, in reality, they synergized to help our group understand and identify the underlying societal factors that led to the distinct proliferation of cholera in Havana as well as generalize this information with overall trends.
Before participating in this project, I never imagined the possibilities that could arise from interdisciplinary research and education because participating in a VCL research project has opened my eyes to all the different ways in which one can draw skills from one discipline to apply in another in order to innovate and create a completely new concept or connection. In a larger context, the possibilities of cross-disciplinary education are nearly endless and would be vital if applied in a widespread manner in educational and research settings. For example, I’ve already seen applications of this phenomenon in my academic studies when I used art historical visual analysis methods to categorize and identify differences in animal skulls for a biology lab. Not only that, I’ve applied prior knowledge of governmental structures and public policy in my summer art history project as well.
I hope to continue expanding my interdisciplinary skill set as I move along on my academic journey at Duke, both within and outside of VCL. As I continue participating in various Visualizing Cities Lab projects and programs, I expect and welcome many late nights, like the one during my spring semester, where I hope to continue being engrossed in what I am learning and being reminded of why I love learning so much in the first place.