At this point, after searching high and low for the right field to study in grad school, I believe system ecology is the one that suits me most, because of the following reasons:
I’ve always been amazed by how visualizations help us to get the theme of the work quicker and deeper. For example, in quantum field theory; Feynman diagrams bring the physical meaning of math to life. It’s not just useful, it’s extraordinarily useful. A picture is worth a thousand words. When I looked at Energese (Energy System Language) developed by Odum -the father of ecosystem ecology, my first thought was that it was an analog of a Feynman diagram, although Odum’s diagrams are based on that of electronic circuits.
You do not need to study the whole network theory in order to work with ecology, same as you do not need to study graph theory in order to work with quantum field theory. But to build a good model, you will absolutely need network thinking.
Talking about networking, throughout billions years of evolution, Homo Sapiens has developed the ability of collaborating to an extremely complex level which no other species had ever reached. And with the invention of the internet, that level has been pushed to a higher bar, one more time. I like this idea, and I am always motivated to make links between lots of different things in any aspect of life. I study the challenging field of biophysics with the aim to produce good science with clear and concise results that everyone can understand (I format my poster in comic book style). I know there is a big difference between theory and experimentation, that’s why my dissertation is about simulation because of the link between them.
To put this simply, let me quote Steve Jobs (keep in mind that I hate quoting platitude): creativity is just connecting things.
Physics and biology, at it’s foundation
The number one reason I studied physics in undergrad is the belief that I would have a rigid foundation for every problem in science. Humans, along with collaboration, has also developed a new addiction: information. It has started questioning everything and it refuses to finish growing!
Physics, if we trace the word back to its etymology it is the “knowledge of nature”. So it’s natural, or at least natural to me, to study physics if you have an ambition to get to the root of nature.
On the other hand, when I was young, I had known that I liked biology, but I didn’t think about why. Until recently, after reading many books, I started to realize why: physics explains how the world in which I’m living functions, while biology explains how I – a living being behave in that world.
…and the final reason: itself
Most of the time, physics is reductionistic. Have you ever heard the joke about the physicist gambling at the races and winning every single time? For the sake of this article’s structure, I won’t paste the whole joke; but the reason why the physicist wins is because they assume that all the horses are identical spheres…
I want a fresh mind. In contrast to physics; ecology is holistic. It deals with the system as a system, not a collection of particles and its interactions. Holism is antireductionism, but antireductionism does not go against reductionism, but instead it completes it. This is why ecology needs both physics and biology (and many other fields), networking, and clear representations. This is also the reason why I title this part as itself.
So this year (2015), I have been reviewing my knowledge in statistical physics. I’m planning to read an ecology book to have a good foundation in ecology before being studying in grad school. Some have recommended the book A Primer of Ecology of Gotelli. I think that I’ll give it a go!