I spent most of last week attending a conference on Random Networks. Not as one might say, a random conference on networks! It was wonderful. Much of it whizzed by me without so much as a by your leave, but the excitement of the various work being presented was too palpable to miss.
There were physicists, mathematicians, computer scientists, and even people from the medical field (modeling disease spread on random networks).
Everyone should attend at least one cross-disciplinary conference such as this once a year. I came home invigorated and refreshed, and much more theoretically oriented than I was a week before. There were some problems I was working on where I had resorted to numerical experiments for some time. NOw with this new mindset, I put to work, and suddenly, the theory yielded itself, leading to my now having fully analytic results, not requiring computer simulations. I do not think anything but my going to this conference would have inspired me to work on these new results.
I am teaching 3 courses this term, and so am up to the gills with classes; and all the usual editorial work, referee work, etc. So, I worried some about taking out almost a whole week to go attend a conference that had absolutely nothing to do with my own work (though I have been working tangentially on it). Yet, I had read a lot about this area, and decided to go nevertheless. The proof is in the pudding. Taking a few days off to refresh and learn from a new environment led to some of the nicest theory work I ended up doing this week. The moral seems to be that having fun as an academic can also be very productive.
And of course, it also taught me to learn from fields outside my own. This is something I do a lot of, but it is still gratifying to see some proof of it every now and then. I am fascinated by power laws, and will most likely write my next piece for the Journal of Investment Management on that topic.
Time away is time well spent.