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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

“STEAM” Endeavors: Spirited Approach Can Create Differences

As the whole word excitedly keeps following results of US Presidential election; today (November 8) marks another interesting occasion- “STEAM Day”. “STEAM” is actually an extended version of the more commonly known abbreviation “STEM”; having a full form of “Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Math”. From general perspective, most people may be able to correlate the terms here except the “Arts” part. That is the beauty and strength of STEAM; it makes STEM more holistic by incorporating arts into it.

A year back, when I (author) was attending a workshop in my university on ‘R’ programming, it was initially a surprise to find that the instructor was a graduate student in psychology, who gained good expertise in ‘R’ while using it for her research data analysis. The concurrent context soon became clear to me. Some traditional thoughts regarding educational streams, like technical or scientific skills can be acquired by only people in those disciplines, are no longer remaining valid. Digitalization in every arena has made it possible (and also necessary) for anyone in any discipline to explore, learn and build expertise in such technical tools.

Similarly, it is now not so unusual to find any science-engineering student pursuing formal/informal education in arts stream at some stage. In this regard I would like to quote a friend of mine, who earned a PhD in mathematics followed by post-doc and now pursuing a graduate degree in journalism:

Mathematics is an art; it’s about creating beautiful structure….Mathematics is abstract and I sometimes miss having human connection; Journalism is all about understanding other people and telling their stories….Also, I view it as a duty to contribute to the wellness of the world in some genuine way….I hate being a one-dimensional person who can do just one thing very well. I don’t like the society to put the label “mathematician” on me and expect me to follow a predefined “progress” path….”

[Source: “Why I am studying journalism”- Abbas Mehrabian. (2020). Retrieved 8 November 2020, from link]

It is now getting more evident that any scientific-technological breakthrough does not become impactful without human connection or proper adoption. Cross-domain collaboration highly helps to achieve that. For instance, in a research team for any artificial intelligence-based solution, it is now quite common to find researchers from sociology or psychology along with engineers-mathematicians. Such collaboration really helps to broaden the perspectives of an individual beyond own arena of thinking. In industry end though, this has been a common practice for long. For example: when Apple designs its new iPhone or Amazon develops its new smart home solution; they perform a thorough acceptance check for these new products; not only for the technical part but also user adoption (which can be often more crucial).

An obvious question that may come into reader’s mind is -how proper synchronization can be possible between completely different domains; as significant variations exist between them in terms of subject specific language, customs or approach. The answer is simple- paths can be different but the destination remains same. Like: researchers from different arena can deal with a particular topic in their own manner; but they all are focused to achieve a sustainable outcome or solution; and that builds up an effective rapport among them during cross-domain collaboration.

In a developing country like Bangladesh; where certification-degree is still the more demanding attribute in university level rather than impactful research, STEAM focused endeavors may not be easily implementable in all scenario. However, just understanding and dedication to this cause can make big positive influence. If technical communities (like academic researchers/industry professional) remain committed to collaborate with arts communities in all possible scopes; and similarly if the arts communities utilize technical collaboration effectively for their advancement; then this can open up lot of new horizon is various arena, leading towards betterment in all aspects.

The author is a Leadership Facilitator and PhD Student (ECE), Concordia University, Canada

Azfar Adib

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