Communities |July 02, 2024|
tags: math.OC

As the thesis is printed, it is time to reflect.

Roughly 1 year ago I got the wonderful advice from Roy Smith that whatever you do, you should be part of a community. This stayed with me as four years ago I wrote on my NCCR Automation profile page that “Control problems of the future cannot be solved alone, you need to work together.” and I finally realized — may it be in retrospect — what this really means, I was being kindly welcomed to several communities.

Just last week at the European Control Conference (ECC24), Angela Fontan and Matin Jafarian organized a lunch session on peer review in our community and as Antonella Ferrara emphasized throughout, you engage in the process to contribute to the community, your community. As such, a high quality — and sustainable — conference is intimately connected to the feeling of community. Especially since the conference itself feeds back into our feeling of community (as I am sure you know, everything is just feedback loops..).

ECC24 was a fantastic example when it comes to strengthening that feeling of community and other examples that come to mind are the inControl podcast by Alberto Padoan, Autonomy Talks by Gioele Zardini, the IEEE CSS magazine, the IEEE CSS road map 2030 and recently, the KTH reading group on Control Theory: Twenty-Five Seminal Papers (1932-1981) organized by Miguel Aguiar. The historical components are important not only to better understand our community (the why, how and what), but to always remember we build upon our predecessors, we are part of the same community. Of course, the NCCR Automation contributed enormously and far beyond Switzerland (fellowships, symposia, workshops, …), but even closer to home, ever since the previous century, the Dutch Institute of Systems and Control (DISC) has done a remarkable job bringing and keeping all researchers and students together (MSc programs, a national graduate school, Benelux meetings, …).

The importance of community is sometimes linked to being in need of recognition and to working more effective when in competition. I am sure this is true for some and I am even more sure this is enforced in fields where research is expensive and funding is scarce. Yet, that vast majority of members of the scientific community are not PIs, but students, and for us the community is critically important to create and enforce a sense of belonging. The importance of belonging is widely known — not only in the scientific community — and most of the problems we have here on earth can be directly linked to a lack of belonging and community (as beautifully formulated in Pale Blue Dot by Carl Sagan).

Celebrating personal successes is of great importance, we need our heros, but I want to be part of a scientific community where we focus on progress of the community, what did we solve, what are our open problems, and how do we go about solving them? Looking back, I am happy to see it seems I am part of such a community indeed. Thank you!