The “Community of Minds” (The COM) is a concept drawn from the pages of history, from Aristotle to Robert Boyle and John Tyndall.
The Purpose of Community:
Aristotle wrote: “People do not naturally become morally excellent or practically wise. They become so, if at all, only as the result of lifelong personal and community effort.” Of what holds this community together he wrote: “Friendship also seems to be the bond that holds community together.” Aristotle wrote not only of the value of The Community but of its necessity. He explained that a community functioned not in spite of its members but as a result. His philosophy was that every group and individual in a community was an essential part of that community, and that by identifying your part and performing it to your fullest, the individual and the community thrived. The case made is that “the individual, when isolated, is not self-sufficing, and, therefore, he is like a part in relation to the whole;” kind of like a hand without a body. In other words, alone, we spend all of our time in an effort to be “self-sufficing” but failing to do so. Aristotle’s studies of 150 different Greek communities led him to the conclusion that “man is by nature an animal intended to live in polis (a structured community).” He believed the evidence showed that through this community, the parts and the whole would no longer struggle for “Bare Needs” (in survival mode), but instead could achieve a higher standard, a “Good Life.”
Emulating the Great Scientists of the Past:
Through the ages the greatest minds have always come together to both challenge and support their fellow scientists. From as far back as 1650 and Robert Boyle’s “Invisible College” on through John Tyndall’s “X Club” of the mid-1800’s, the advancement of science, and indeed the world, has been propelled by the coming together of scientists and scholars, a “Community of Minds” you might say. In a 1996 National Research Council report (From Analysis to Action, page 6), which was based on a 1994 NSF study, they called for a “need to form ‘invisible colleges’.” While the original “Invisible College” became The Royal Society in 1662 and led to what is modern day “science,” hopefully we have evolved past the need for science or education to maintain “a fair degree of secrecy” as was required in the political climate of the 1650’s. The “Community of Minds” draws inspiration from the scientists of the past who saw it in the best interest of both the science and themselves to tap into the community around them even under the threat of persecution or even prosecution. If tapping into the community around them was good enough for Robert Boyle and John Tyndall, then how could it not be important to us? Further, if this “Community” approach was good for science, then how could it not be good for education, career or any other part of our professional lives? The COM takes the concepts of community put forward by Aristotle in 300B.C., combines them with the “Invisible” community of Boyle in 1650A.D. and looks for ways to apply this to 21st century science, education, and career.
Building a Global COM, One Node at a Time:
Today we can fly anywhere in the world in a day to visit Universities and Institutes of learning, attend conferences, or visit a colleague. What’s more, in the modern world, we can build our personal COM without ever leaving our desk, apartment, or coffee shop. With a couple of clicks of our computer keyboard we can video chat via Skype, join a conference call with any number of peers, friends, and mentors through WebX, or simply have a one-on-one conversation using LinkedIn or some other IM provider. But even a computer is often an unnecessary restriction. From our Smartphones we can reach out and get a 144 character opinion in seconds. We can email or text friends, peers, and mentors while sitting on a bench in the garden. In today’s world, the number of people and resources, “Nodes,” we can add to our Community is unlimited. Boyle would be jealous! Take a PhD candidate for example. Studies, professional opinion, and common sense say your Community of Minds should include as many of the following Nodes as possible: personal PIs, outside professors, mentors, peers, lab mates, friends, and family. Beyond that, this technologically advancing world gives a Grad student the opportunity to add other Nodes, such as social media. With social media you have the professional options, like LinkedIn, ResearchGate, Google Scholar, and more, as well as casual contact with the Grad student’s Community through Twitter, Instagram, and many others. If possible, the PhD candidate should develop a personal/professional website as a way of building and communicating with the other Nodes in their growing Community.
Your Career Begins Now:
The COM believes our careers do not begin after completing Higher Ed. but before we leave high school. In the modern world, limitations to our Community only exist where we ourselves construct them. The sooner we take control or “ownership” of our careers the better chance we have at success and a “Good Life.” The COM seeks to find new ways to identify and tap into the world around us, to build “Diverse Skills,” and increase the Nodes in everyone’s Community. The COM believes the evidence has shown that the type of personal interaction represented by the 1650 Invisible College remains not only relevant but an essential piece in improving our Academic and Professional Careers. It is The COM’s purpose to innovate and promote new ways to identify and connect these Nodes, new and old, into educational and professional development opportunities. Each of us fighting our way through the academic and scientific process alone will be forced into survival mode. This not only makes the experience less enjoyable, it also severely restricts what we can achieve and produce.
In the end, The Community of Minds concept is this: No one should settle for “survival” when opportunities to “thrive” are all around us. All we have to do is tap into and contribute to the Community of which we are already a part.
It is The COM’s mission to help you do both!