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The Power of Interdisciplinarity

My passion for Physics probably came in an unusual way. While I have always found the language of Mathematics somehow intuitive and a natural way to express myself in (I reckon the importance of my teachers for this), my interest in Physics came more from the need to cultivate the curiosity about Nature and the doubt about our knowledge that I first encountered when studying Ancient Philosophy.

Studying Ancient Greek Philosophy at high school made me realize that the first physicists were philosophers too. Coming to know their creative thinking, their boldness in questioning the established common sense and the courage needed in contemplating doubt inspired me.

I recognise these are also traits central to contemporary Physics research, and acknowledging that what we are doing today started a long time ago, when others dedicated their lives to research about the Nature - as the most profound questions are timeless - makes me feel part of a greater cooperative endeavour and gives me more understanding of what I am doing and, in particular, why.

For these reasons, I understood I could not let go of either Physics or Philosophy. The perfect solution for me was pursuing a joint undergraduate degree in Physics and Philosophy. However, there are many ways in which you can combine or keep cultivating different interests. While there is not a general recipe, here are some tips from my own experience that I would like to share:

Know yourself, discover your goal: Allow yourself time to discover what your own interests, aspirations and needs are. This is the starting and most important point.

Research and do not restrict your own interests: Interesting connections with apparently detached subjects may lurk at the core of extremely specific topics. As an example, philosophical questions can come out from Theoretical Physics discussions and considering both points of view can bring more and novel insight in both fields. Also, having the possibility to understand both the specific languages of Physics and Philosophy does not prevent you from being proficient at each of them when detached from the other!

Transferable skills: Graphing techniques that you are familiar with from your scientific studies may come handy in visualizing and explaining complex ideas to others. At the same time your writing skills and love for Literature may help you express your ideas in a scientific essay, so do remember that any skill can be transferable!

Extracurricular activities: Sometimes it is possible to combine two different interests in the same degree or project, sometimes it does not seem to be possible. In these cases, do not worry, but keep cultivating your interests in your spare time joining related societies or doing some extracurricular activities.

The power of Interdisciplinarity: Do not be afraid to team and join forces with people that are currently working or researching in different fields. Interdisciplinary cooperative projects often lead to new ingenious ideas and enrich all the participants with new insights.

There is no correct career path, but YOUR OWN career path: do not be afraid to enter a field that is new to you. Just research the field, ask others about prerequisites and plan to do some reading before your course starts. Remember that even if your academic background is not standard and there may be a steep learning curve when first starting a specific course, you will still thrive if you are willing to learn something new and motivated to do the necessary work to catch up. Your knowledge and skills in other fields will give you a unique point of view that may introduce new insights into the new field you are entering.


Clelia Altomonte

Clelia is currently an MSc student in Mathematical and Theoretical Physics at Oxford after obtaining a BSc (Hons) in Physics and Philosophy from King’s College London.

She is active in supporting gender equality in STEM by engaging with Womxn in Physics societies and is also interested in developing connections between the Sciences and Humanities, especially through studies in Philosophy of Physics, and making Physics more accessible to a wider public.

She also recognises the importance to question the philosophical canon and the History of Science for the recognition of the work of women, non-binary and non-Western thinkers, scientists, and philosophers present and past. Clelia has a passion for the Arts, Drama and Poetry. She is extremely interested in Anthropology studies, Archaeology and very fond of Ancient Greek and Latin literature in the original language.

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