For someone who describes themselves casually as, “..theoretical statistical physicist by training and a complexologist by nature,” “just call me Rik” Dr. Hendrik Blok was remarkably modest and affable in interview, and definitely didn’t need any icebreakers to clear the tension; there was none to begin with.
And so we present:
Rik Blok on
Calvin and Hobbes,
being a complexologist (reductionism just isn’t enough),
and of course,
on his research and involvement with Integrated Sciences.
Rik: (laughs) Uhm, what do I love most? I guess I love how Calvin is like kinda precocious and crazy and stuff and Hobbes is so calm. And he sees the craziness in Calvin and can reflect on it in a really nice way; and totally spins things around and takes it out of the context of a comic strip and sees it kind of in a bigger picture.
When asked if Rik ever related Calvin and Hobbes to his research:
Rik: … I think that Hobbes kind of provides that scientific perspective in a sense, like he’ll look at something that Calvin is building and be able to see it from a very different perspective and that gives it a different meaning.
Different perspectives are essential in effective scientific research and feedback, and one unusual perspective we didn’t know much about was complexology.. so of course we had to ask.
A brief, further clarification of complexology and it’s relevance to himself, according to Rik:
“It’s just a matter of what you’re idealizing and what details you’re throwing away; instead of throwing away the details of the connections, now you’re throwing away all the details of the internal workings of those parts… for my PhD, I looked at the stock market and why it behaves the way it does and in that case, it seems… that it is the interactions between the pieces that makes so much difference.”
Upon learning that Rik’s PhD was involved with the stock market, and that he’s been very focused on math, physics and computer science, we asked him to do a some predicting for us on some research he’d mentioned on his site:
We were surprised to find a lot of biology-based research here, despite his previously mentioned interests, and
Sarah: ...we were surprised about all [the] statistical physics with all the biology. So we were wondering, which one of these predictions you think would be… the most likely to turn out?
“I don’t think it was a matter of choosing Integrated Sciences, it was more of a matter of falling into it, you know? It’s not like I said “This is what I want to do with my life,” but it’s more like “Now I’m doing this thing; I really like this thing!” I don’t know if there’s a lesson there, because maybe, a lot of what happens in our lives isn’t stuff that we planned, it’s just stuff that happens to us. And it’s just a matter of recognizing whether it’s a good thing or we need to move on.”
Kathleen: Right so, you talked a lot about how for Integrated Sciences, you kind of fell into that opportunity. If the Integrated Sciences program was around when you were still an undergraduate, which courses would you combine/integrate?
Rik: I probably would have done an Integrated Sciences degree, and I would have been interested in physics, computers, and math. And physics and math go together in a pretty straight-forward way, but I think computers could kind of bring a new perspective in. Now it’s pretty common to use computers in simulations and stuff in physics, but I guess, twenty something years ago, when I was an undergrad, it wasn’t so common, and it was a little bit of an unusual thing to do. I had one teacher [Dr. Birger Bergersen] who I did a kind of computer simulation project with us as an undergrad and that kind of opened things up for me because he became my masters and PhD supervisor. And I think yeah, to bring that computer angle in, that’s what I would have done.
Sarah: “...we were also wondering how do you think it’s [Integrated Sciences has] changed and where do you think it’ll go?
Sarah: Do you think you’ll be able to keep accommodating more integrated sciences students, or do you think there’ll be a cap?
Rik: We’re kinda at our maximum with our current capacity and the way we’re running - but it’s the structure that’s pretty flexible… basically we just need more teachers and more advisors - with that we could grow… without bounds.
Kathleen: Okay, so I was looking at - I’m not in this program, I’m only in first year -
Rik: Mhm, but you’re planning to take it?
Kathleen: Yeah, I’m interested!
(nods of approval all around, Kathleen has finally infiltrated the IntSci program and is becoming one of them, one of them, one of them)
Kathleen: I was looking at the Integrated Sciences program website and there were in the Frequently Asked Questions, what is the difference between going into Integrated Sciences and getting a double major? One of the responses I found pretty interesting was:
“The difference between a Double Major and an Integrated Science degree as I see it can best be described by using an analogy to colours. For example, if we say that a Microbiology degree is blue and that a Chemistry degree is yellow, then a Double Major student would have both colours on their palette, but they would be divided one from the other and would be used separately. An Integrated Science degree on the other hand would combine elements of both the blue and the yellow degrees, focusing not only on the separate elements but also on the interactions between those elements and as a result a new field (or at least a new focus) of study is created; green in this analogy.”
Why do you think it’s so important for students to have the option to blend colours compared to just having two different colours on their palette?
Rik: So I think there’s two things.
Upon asking if he is involved with or teaches ISCI classes off of UBC Campus, in Iceland and more...
Rik: “Not the Iceland trip, but I do teach the Pemberton retreat. So that’s ISCI 320. And that’s a blast.”
Kathleen: What is that one about?
Julia Amerongen Madisson was a student of Rik’s on this retreat; she extended a project from the class to develop work examining the spread of culture and what makes an idea catchy. Julia took her scientific knowledge and applied it to examining graffiti on desks in the Koerner library and how they evolved/have evolved over time.
Advice for potential Integrated Sciences students, and interested researchers:
Rik: I think it would be pursue your passion. It’s a pretty simple message, so here’s an opportunity to basically study almost anything… you have a chance to create your own degree. So here’s four years of your life like do it - make the most of it, and make it into something memorable for yourself.
And so, finally,
Kathleen: One more thing - what is the most rewarding part of being in this program for you?
Just to give you guys a headsup, this past Monday, Sarah and I met up (for the first time!) and had a chat with A-Professor-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (for now). It was eye-opening, it was inspiring, and it went admittedly a bit over my head, especially when we were discussing his research. (Almost as if there would be a gaping knowledge gap between what undergraduate students could grasp and the academic works created for a PhD; nevertheless, extremely interesting and we all tried, with rather entertaining results - you'll see!). Most of all, it was a blast and we're grateful for the opportunity to learn so much about the program and about both a lecturer and mentor in it!
Coming soon to a phone or computer screen near you, The Interview: A Blog Collab and Not The James Franco and Seth Rogen Movie That Caused North Korea To Declare War On the United States, But They Will Probably Be Released Around the Same Time, With the Latter Doing Significantly Better in the Box Office.
Here's a sneak peek, and coincidentally, a hint to our interviewee's identity: our first, icebreaker question-
We noticed the first thing we see when we click to your home page is a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. What do you love most about them, how did they inspire you as a kid, as an adult, and how do they compare to other comics for you?
RECOMMENDED READS: CATEGORIES "MENTOR SPOTLIGHTS" AND "ALUMNUS INTERVIEWS"
Charu, VP Admin