Integration, not segregation

The tenth annual Chiasma Launch was a rousing event – Joerg Kistler spoke of the importance of collaboration between the industry and academia in order to propel New Zealand’s growth as an intellectual powerhouse. We have the talent, but the link – the ‘chiasma’ so to speak, needs to be strengthened.

While it may be fair that the commonalities between science and commerce aren’t immediately apparent, there is a burgeoning natural tendency to segregate ourselves into isolated islands of knowledge with limited awareness of what goes on around us.

I come from a Music and Chemistry background. They bear no immediate semblance to each other, but this underlying thread of intellectual segregation is painfully prominent. The cross-talk between performers, composers and musicologists is meager. Even within performers come huge chasms between the classical, jazz and the popular music students.

And likewise, the ‘organic’, the ‘inorganic’, the ‘materials’ and the ‘physical’ chemists – all in their wells, unbeknownst that we all live in the same ecosystem. The divide grows greater between disciplines with a toxic, arrogant attitude that should not exist.

Perhaps the exponential explosion of knowledge, the diversification within sub-disciplines forces us to commit down one path. And yes, there may be fields that are close to saturation, but it seems we would rather shrivel up in our own wells than get out and thrive in the ocean of opportunities around us.

In an age of globalisation and information sharing, we are more connected than ever. Such containment in our own area of expertise is myopic at best. We are in a truly fertile environment for growth – all we need to do is get off from the road well travelled and take a step into the uncharted forest.

The Masters of Bioscience Enterprise programme, founded by Joerg Kistler himself, was a direct effort in encouraging students to explore the world of opportunities between science and enterprise. It has been hugely successful, it’s just a shame that this attitude has not been translated across to other discipline within the university.

This change needs to geminate from how we approach our practices. We must grow out rather than in. Our identity isn’t defined by the one square box we commit ourselves into – this ‘post-modern’ world we live in today is connected, global and aware, so why aren’t we?

The world today demands technically-able graduates and citizens who are broad thinkers, astutely aware of opportunities both in front of and around us, who are flexible and adept across disciplines, who challenge conventional boundaries set by our predecessors. These citizens will be the change makers of tomorrow.

New Zealand lies at a cusp; it has every possibility to be among the best. We should not cloud our pursuits with ego, but rather be humbled by the interdisciplinary void left unfilled.

Let us be willing to take one step to the side and dare ourselves to try something new. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll stumble upon a key that will open a treasure chest of opportunities.