The hard problem then is how to get specialists to credit you for advancing their field when they don’t see you as a high status one of them. (more) Many of my most beloved colleagues, and also I, are intellectual polymaths. That is, we have published in many different areas, and usefully integrated results from diverse areas. Academia tends to neglect integration and generality, which hurts not only intellectual progress, but also myself and my colleagues. Which makes me especially interested in fixing this problem.
I consider myself a generalist, fairly broad knowledge but not very good at anything.
Systems engineers are high status and not neglect in orgs that really do things, but much less so in universities.
At a sizeable school it seems that it might be useful for the Generalist dept to also be the home of concentrations which cut across multiple traditional depts. E.g. one such concentration in some Generalist depts might be complex systems.
I don't know what the CST was supposed to be, but what it is is exactly the ordinary situation RH mentions as already existing: writing general curriculum is a reward for prestigious specialists. Chicago has larger and more unified general requirement than most schools, but I don't think that the CST makes it very different than, say, Columbia's.
I don't think that the professors in CST talk to each other about their research. The Committee grants PhDs, but I think that they are just as specialized as their advisors.
Maybe this general curriculum is the right way to teach undergrads, but that decision precedes the CST. Maybe U Cambridge is right to train undergrads in "Natural Science," but this impedes their ability to pursue prestigious graduate study!
The thing I worry about is that although Mr Hanson does publish across disciplines he seems to see them all as nails, and so bashes them with his one intellectual hammer. Which isn't so good. Unless of course he has the intellectual hammer of Thor...
Also, as regards the over confidence point earlier in the comments. Anyone referring to themselves as a polymath should be banned.
Would you say you and Caplan are over or under confident in your own contributions?
The number of job openings for generalists may be much larger than the number of them that a job seeker can find, because a job seeker can search only for specific job types.
I take it back, then, that's a lot more first-hand experience than myself (although my small experience has seen positive attitudes towards generalists, assuming they survive the initial screening). Unfortunate that it's so under-valued broadly...
This is a myth. I'm a generalist, having worked in academia, industry, and government; as a teacher, cryptologist, roboticist, artificial intelligence researcher, game developer, bioinformatician, and web developer; in domains including air traffic control, network intrusion detection, ultra-wideband sensor networks, autonomous agents, medical records, prokaryotic genome annotation; for the NIH, NSA, DARPA, the Army, NASA, the U of Buffalo, a computer game company, a genomics company, and a financial software company. Every time I have a job interview, they eventually say some equivalent of, "You have a fascinating resume, and I'm sure someone wants to hire you. But we really want someone with 10 years experience in using blockchain to track music royalties under international law using the dot net framework."
Well, job descriptions can't include a major that doesn't yet exist. As for whether or not industry wants to hire generalists, you're wrong. They do. Especially at start-ups.
Afterthought: While 'pull' may be a necessary condition for a culture that fosters an elite of highly-effective generalists, it doesn't seem sufficient. Example: Medicine, which from my lay perspective does not do as good a job at this as Engineering (for reasons which are both inherent - human bodies being more complex and less modular than any current engineered system - and cultural/economic (one manifestation of which is that a typical lead specialist or GP has responsibility for one or two orders of magnitude more "projects" than does their typical Engineering analogue).
I recall two anecdotes in "Surely You're Joking" in which someone outsmarted Feynman: One in which Fermi intuited the upshot of some physical situation some 10x faster than Feynman (who said this was typical), and another in which passing math person X at Feynman's university one-upped him on some problem-solving challenge while hardly breaking stride down the hall (again, Feynman said this was typical).
That said, these anecdotes were not typical:-)
1) This is of course a very worthy goal2) You describe a cultural barrier that has been largely solved in certain (perhaps all) engineering disciplines (e.g. Systems Engineering and SW Engineering, with which I am familiar): The priveleging of depth over breadth. In those two disciplines my experience is that "breadth with enough depth" - the ability to get one's head around a large system, understanding just enough about the pieces (whose details are understood more fully by next-level SMEs) well enough to specify an overall system (or mods thereto) which effectively meets overall system reqts/risk/sched/budget/etc. - is at least as highly valued as depth on average, such that increasing breadth often functions as a technical advancement ladder paralleling that on the managerial side.3) I think the reason Engineering has evolved this way is simply because there was a 'pull' for generalists, without whom it was increasingly difficult or impossible to deliver systems more complex than a single person could understand. Which leads me to wonder whether there is a similar 'pull' for academic generalists (and if so, why depth-primacy is so much more powerful in the academic world, and if not, whether this might be a solution in search of a problem; my thinking has evolved a bit since typing point 1):-)
What is the most efficient level of generality at which to approach intellectual inquiry, on an organizational level? We don't really know, but it would be good to find out.
There is definitely a failure mode of polymaths being overconfident in their contributions. My proposed method of selecting for the DoG should avoid that.
I said they are neglected, not that they are totally excluded.