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On 23 February the first Excellence Lounge took place at the IAS. Students from the Amsterdam Excellence Scholarship and Amsterdam Science Talent Scholarship were invited for an academic discussion with IAS Associates Willem Bouten and Henkjan Honing.

Photo Thijs Spanhaak

Despite the strong wind and rain, fourteen Excellence students and IAS Associates Willem Bouten and Henkjan Honing gathered in the Sweelinck lounge on a Thursday evening for lectures and discussion on the challenges of interdisciplinary research. 

Prof. dr. Willem Bouten leads the research group of computational geo-ecology at the Institute of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Dynamics. He started his lecture with a challenge for the scholars to think about approaches from their own fields. As an example, he contrasted the general research approach between the field of physics and ecology to illustrate the idea that scientists are taught to view problems in structured ways within their fields.

The inspirational evening continued with Prof. dr. Henkjan Honing, as he explained how his enthusiasm for musicality (the ability to enjoy music) drove him to move between academic disciplines. As an interdisciplinary researcher, he aims to discover fundamental mechanisms within the human brain which enables musicality. During the engaging lecture, he shared personal experiences of attending conference outside his field to connect with other researchers who are interested in the same question.

Photo Thijs Spanhaak

Throughout both lectures, students responded with thoughtful questions. Some touched on the functional challenges in meeting researchers from other fields, whereas others inquired the challenges of missing specialized knowledge across disciplines. Both presenters acknowledged the challenges of interdisciplinary work but remarked that the gratifying opportunities to learn new things outweigh its difficulty. In regards to connecting with other researchers, Willem Bouten shared that his research on birds’ behavior attracted the attention of researchers worldwide because of his usage of an innovative tracking system.

Overall, the students appreciated learning about the institute and relished the opportunity to engage with its community. They remarked how inspiring it was to learn from researchers who are driven together beyond academic borders because of their curiosity in similar questions. Even after the lectures, the creative atmosphere continued with conversations and drinks and was thoroughly enjoyed by all.