Sabbatical destination with cosmopolitan group of scientists
September 16, 2016 8:03 AM   Subscribe

Where are the academic (or other) research group/sub-departments - in any science discipline! - that live up to the fantasy of eloquent free-wheeling idea exchange and cosmopolitanism, while still doing science.

I have a sabbatical/research-leave coming up. I am a scientist, and I could some of this sabbatical work anywhere in the USA/Canada.

I’m interested if anyone has first or second hand knowledge of *groups* of scientists (that could include students/postdocs) that are interesting, eloquent and wordly in what they talk about in, and around, their research environments.

i.e. The modern equivalent of a Viennese salon in a science lab/department.

In other words, the opposite to a standard science research *group* whose sole job is to generate data and publish papers and get grants. Often the most productive and/or well-known labs are staffed primarily by non-anglophone people (who may be interesting/well read, but with whom multi-subject english conversation is difficult) and/or monomaniacs, or, frankly, non-cosmopolitan people who aren’t interested in talking about ideas.

I want some cosmopolitanism - a scientist who knows about art talking to another scientist who is well read about philosophy, who talks to a lab manager who knows about music etc. etc.

The cosmopolitanism could be integral to the lab/group’s work, or the lab could be doing straightforward science but known to be particularly eclectic.

PIs are sometimes like this, but you don’t get to talk to the PIs all the time. I’d like to talk to *groups* that have these properties.

PIs - but I know nothing of their groups - who seem to fit this bill:

Eric Kandel (art/neuroscience, columbia)
Fred Menger (chemistry/philosophy)
Roald Hoffmann (computational chemistry/art/philosophy)

I realize that academia isn’t like this most of the time - I know - I’ve been doing it for a long time…..and I realize that this desire could come across as elitist/other-ist……I don’t care. I yearn for something l missed in grad school and postdoc, and that my job has singularly not provided the environment for.
posted by anonymous to Science & Nature (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not positive this is the kind of thing you are looking for, but a friend had a great time as a post-doc at the Santa Fe Institute and several of my friends now love working at RTI.

And then there are the NSF centers established specifically to encourage this kind of work, all of which welcome sabbatical scholars: NCEAS, SESYNC, NEScent, and NIMBios.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:18 AM on September 16, 2016

Oh, and now I discovered that NEScent doesn't exist anymore and has been replaced by TriCEM.
posted by hydropsyche at 8:20 AM on September 16, 2016

Oh, and obviously I'm a biologist, but I've gathered you might be, too. If not, NSF has a range of synthesis centers all over the US
posted by hydropsyche at 8:22 AM on September 16, 2016

There are also business/marketing sorts of groups that might fit this bill, like IndieBio. More of an accelerator than a salon, it's nevertheless worth considering. Even if you just look through the people they follow / who follow them on Twitter.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:31 AM on September 16, 2016

My experience is that Max Planck institutes tend often to be like this. I can't recommend a specific one, because my favourite has closed down now, but I've visited three different ones in Germany and the Netherlands and had this sort of experience.
posted by lollusc at 6:24 PM on September 16, 2016

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