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March 7, 2008 4:42 PM   Subscribe

I am looking for any sort of graduate or post-grad programs in Complex Systems. I’m not even sure if that is what I am looking for exactly. I am totally fascinated in the things like Emergence, Swarm intelligence and the like. (E.g. Mettafilter.) Places like The Santa Fe Institute and The New England Complex Systems Institute appear to be doing work in the field I am looking into. Now, the rub is that I cannot find many educational programs in this field.

The only things I can find are the Portland State Systems Science graduate program, and the University of Michigan Center for the Study of Complex Systems, and that’s it.

Is that all there is? Is it that small of a field? Is what I am looking for called something else?
How do I get myself into this incredible field?
posted by Widepath to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
You might consider looking into cybernetics programs. This field has had a difficult history, however; lots of booms and busts. The other term you see used a lot is "systems science".

You're probably best off going after a degree in a traditional field. Physics, math, and applied math are always good for this sort of research; mechanical engineering could be interesting if you want to get a handle on control and feedback issues; there are people doing work under the label of "systems biology" in bioengineering, chemical engineering, and various biological disciplines.

In general, if you have a strong interest in pursuing an advanced degree in a particular scientific subject, the best path is to find a person whose work you're interested in and to find a way to study under that person. For instance, are you interested in any of the work done by the external faculty at the SFI? You can apply to a program in their home department.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:14 PM on March 7, 2008

Computer Engineering or Computer Science.
posted by rhizome at 5:16 PM on March 7, 2008

The Unit of Social Ecology at the University of Brussels. Probably more bilingual than their webpage indicates since the members publish a lot in English.

Long list of possibilities

The UCLA "artificial life" group may be of interest.

Guy Theraulaz at the University of Toulouse.

Search terms that might be useful - "agent based modelling" and "stigmergy".
posted by Rumple at 5:32 PM on March 7, 2008

I actually got my degree (in physics) in a complex systems group. I would STRONGLY suggest that you find a particular problem and get a degree in a relevant discipline, as opposed to getting some sort of generic complex systems background. People who do generic "complex systems" tend to have broad-but-shallow knowledge. You may get by with that once you're established, but as a student it makes things difficult. This is especially the case because there's a lot of nonsense to be found, and without deep expertise it may be difficult to seperate useful from crazy, or to know what's already been done. In complex systems, you want to avoid reinventing the wheel as much as possible.

Based on what you've posted, I would suggest looking for specific research groups that tackle the problems you like (swarming, etc) and think about picking your school and program based on the idea of eventually joining one of those groups.
posted by Humanzee at 5:34 PM on March 7, 2008

Consider University of New Mexico. Stephanie Forrest studies complex adaptive systems and also works with the Santa Fe Institute. Her work includes stuff about emergent computation and self-organizing sytems in natural and computer networks.

And... she rocks. Seriously.
posted by answergrape at 5:51 PM on March 7, 2008

You should look into Informatics programs. Many of them include complex systems tracks. Informatics departments often cover an extremely broad range of subdisciplines and there's not a whole lot of agreement about what it constitutes, so make sure you check to see what research is being done at whatever institution you're looking into to make sure it's related to what you want to study.

I can't speak for other programs, but the Informatics program here at Indiana University Bloomington (one of the oldest in the country) has an active complex systems group with faculty studying a variety of aspects of the field (epidemic modeling, earthquake predictions, internet structure, biophysics, adaptive recommendation, artificial life, systems biology, decision making, neural networks, etc.) There's also an active social informatics track, so there is also sociological/ethnographic work being done about online communities and other social aspects of new technology. Interdisciplinary work is encouraged, so if you want to do something in between the lines, it's a good place for that. I'm currently a PhD student in the informatics program, though I'm on the math/logic track (we logicians go where they'll take us), but I'm taking the complex systems seminar right now, and I might do my breadth requirement in complex systems, so I've gotten a chance to talk to a lot of the professors in that area.

The Santa Fe Institute does have a long history in the field, stretching all the way back to the days of cybernetics. Mr Roboto is correct in that a lot of work done in complex systems falls under the banner of what used to be called "cybernetics" and later "systems science", but those words have fallen out of fashion for various reasons. So you may find some programs still using those names, but I think most have switched to using the name "complex systems" now. You may have been having trouble finding those programs because they usually will be groups in a larger department, like informatics.

Note: while "informatics" still doesn't have a well-accepted definition, don't confuse informatics departments with information science departments. IS departments are usually more along the lines of Library Science, though you can find people in IS departments studying things that have nothing to do with libraries. Also, if you go to Europe, "informatics" and related words in other languages are sometimes used as synonyms for "computer science".
posted by ErWenn at 6:40 PM on March 7, 2008

I would STRONGLY suggest that you find a particular problem and get a degree in a relevant discipline, as opposed to getting some sort of generic complex systems background.

A thousand times this. Computer science, engineering, animal behavior, etc - think about what kind of thing you'd like to specialize, and let the complex systems stuff be your concentration within a recognized academic discipline.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:20 PM on March 7, 2008

"Cognitive Science" is sort of the new name for AI studies, and melds computer science, systems analysis, and psychology stuff. I did some complex systems stuff in undergraduate, and there was more of it for graduate-level stuff.
posted by JZig at 10:47 PM on March 7, 2008

Cognitive science also includes the study of natural intelligence -- ie, neuroscience, linguistics, etc -- not just artificial intelligence.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:52 PM on March 7, 2008

Another thousand times for "Get a degree in something substantive that you happen to use complex systems to explain." You can always go to Santa Fe's summer school. I know at least one person in political science who did this successfully.

Warning: In the event that you happen to be interested in political science, you might be tempted to go to Emory and work with Courtney Brown. This is not recommended due to Brown's... idiosyncracies.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:01 AM on March 8, 2008

I'll jump on the "find a particular scientific field you want to work in" bandwagon. Systems ecology is another one of the complex systems fields. I know several folks who have taken classes/spent time at Santa Fe who work in that area. Although the concept has been dismissed by some, many ecologists still look for emergent properties in ecosystems.
posted by hydropsyche at 7:53 AM on March 8, 2008

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