By Dimitrio Sidi, University of Western Australia
There is a popular video game series called Just Cause where players control a character whose objective is to liberate towns from the rule of an oppressive dictator. In that sense, the character is fighting a “just” cause – he is fighting for justice and for the sake of the people under an oppressive rule. Now Just Cause is an open-world game and in my experience of open-world games there are a lot things that we as players do that we do for the sake of it. There might be a side mission or achievement one can unlock that is not crucial to the main storyline however we do it anyway – just ‘cause [because]. This double entendre perfectly describes this game and it was on this that I really reflected upon over the course of my research project this summer.
One of the biggest things that I really felt I got from working on my research project and attending the Big Day In Conference hosted by AMSI is an understanding of what a research career in mathematics would mean to me. My project revolved around what I believe to be quite a noble cause. I was looking at how we can best relocate rhinos from different conservation parks in South Africa in order to increase the total population growth rate of the endangered animal. In practice however, it was a project where the mathematical concepts I had used to approach the problem were quite basic. However at the other end of the spectrum, we had research presented at the Big Day In that was very involved in terms of developing new mathematics. In many of these cases, it is perhaps not always clear what sort of immediate real world impact such research can make. As someone who thoroughly enjoys the beauty that can be found in mathematics however, it was easy for me to see why some of these topics would have been very interesting. Such research can be also instrumental in opening up new mathematics that can have valuable applications later down the track.
Often a “just” cause makes a particular research project attractive for sponsors, institutions and even the researcher themselves to get behind and support, however at the same time there are many aspects of mathematics that are so beautiful and satisfying to explore and people want to continue exploring it just ‘cause. It is moot to try and argue that one is more valuable than the other and I truly believe that they each have their place in the world of research. In fact I believe that for a truly satisfying career, one needs a combination and balance of both – to fulfil one’s own sense of curiosity is just as important as our social responsibility to, whenever we can, improve the world we’ve been given. So as I pursue a career in mathematics, I’ll keep in mind that I’m doing it just cause.
Dimitrio Sidi was one of the recipients of a 2015/16 AMSI Vacation Research Scholarship.