Taste of Informatics

What is informatics?

April 06, 2021 Informatics+, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University Season 1 Episode 1
Taste of Informatics
What is informatics?
Show Notes Transcript

What is informatics, and how does it relate to modern life? Host Mike Nitardy chats with Kevin Kirby, Dean of the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University.

Brian Jaynes:

Greetings. Northern Kentucky University's College of informatics and it's outreach arm Informatics+ would like to welcome you to the Taste of Informatics podcast series.

Mike Nitardy:

Welcome to the Informatics Cafe. My name is Mike Nitardy and I will be your host today. Today's special is an introduction to informatics. Thank you for joining. With us in the cafe today to discuss informatics is Dean Kevin Kirby. He's the Dean of the College of Informatics at Northern Kentucky University. Kevin, thank you for joining us in the cafe today. I know our patrons are very excited about learning more about informatics and the place that it has in our everyday life.

Kevin Kirby:

It's great to be here, Mike at this really cool cafe and everyone's still masked up on this date. But oh, it's so good to talk. Yeah. Glad to be here.

Mike Nitardy:

Yeah, we're making sure to be safe and socially distant. But let's start off just with a general question. What exactly is informatics?

Kevin Kirby:

Well, it's an interesting word, the way we use it lately is, informatics is all about finding human meaning in a world of data. Think of it as everything about information, how to make information, useful, how to make it meaningful. I mean, we're surrounded by information and data. But in the College of informatics, we really want to teach students and give them experience on how to gather information, process information, protect information, share information. And that all goes together. It's a huge umbrella that contains everything from journalism and media to cybersecurity and software engineering. So kind of like what people use the word tech for right? You see a headline, "Big Tech." What did they mean by tech, it's really not any more an abbreviation for technology, right? It's not all technology. It's not catalytic converters, or fracking technology. But it's not just IT either, right? That's too narrow. Look at social media about the interaction of people together communication and media, social transformation through that. So you need a word for that. And that word is informatics.

Mike Nitardy:

Well, now that we have a basic understanding of what informatics is, what should our patrons know about this broad field?

Kevin Kirby:

Well, there's a sense of urgency to informatics, especially right now. I mean, the world and I don't mean the region, I don't mean the country, I really do mean the world needs people who can analyze urgent data quickly and accurately, who can tell compelling stories around it possibly behavior changing stories around it, as we know, and who also can provide usable and trustworthy tech to deliver it? Right, so we need to mobilize vast reserves of untapped talent, really, at scale. And, of course, this is what we're trying to do here at this university.

Mike Nitardy:

It seems that there's really nothing more important. I mean, I hate to, to maybe, you know, make it you know, so huge. But in this world that we're living in today, these are really, the crux of the major issues that we're dealing with in life aren't they?

Kevin Kirby:

Well, I hate to say anything is the most important set of fields at a university but one way of looking at it is, informatics touches everything, right? What do people do at a university that it doesn't touch? Right? It touches business. It touches education. It touches the arts. It touches the humanities. It touches healthcare. So there is that sense of universality. And that's, that's really what excites me, and a lot of us here in the College of informatics, is we are so interdependent with deep thinkers and deep leaders and other fields that we get to interact with all of them. And it's very exciting.

Mike Nitardy:

I think that we've kind of, you know, touched on that just a little bit. My next question is what makes informatics cool and how does it change the world? I think I've already kind of gotten into that. But can you elaborate a little bit more?

Kevin Kirby:

Well, coolness has many things to many people. I mean, just to start at the lowest level a lot of people think tech is cool. And digital technology is amazing. It's constantly changing. It draws us in I mean, part of it is deliberately designed to draw us in steal our eyeballs and our fingertips for hours at a time. So there is some coolness built in to purely the tech side of informatics. But you peel that off, peel beyond that, and it's cool to understand it. It's cool to get behind the screen. Get under the hood in the computer into the operating system into that dangerous world where everything is fragile and hackable, that's cool too. And it's fun to understand the dynamics of communication, both computer mediated communication, organizational communication between people like here in the cafe back and forth the flow of information, how we're interpreting each other, the interpersonal dynamics, we actually teach interpersonal communication at the College of informatics as part of the communications part of informatics. So, there are layers and layers of coolness here. And depending on your inclination, it can tap into the artistic side of you, the creative side of you, the analytical side of you, the geeky side of you. And I think that creates a unique cumulative coolness here.

Mike Nitardy:

No doubt about it. What about, you know, potential job opportunities for people going into informatics? What kind of careers can people anticipate being involved in?

Kevin Kirby:

It looks like I keep going back to the breadth, which is really important, right? I mean, there are highly specific jobs. A software engineer, for example, a mobile app developer, on the tech side, a journalist. Newspapers are not what they used to be, but there is a need to get the news out there. That is not going to go away. Public relations is huge. And everywhere that's informatics. The huge health care sector relies on information systems in healthcare analytics. Consumer analytics is really big in town. It's there is some sense, not only of the breadth, but also the demand. I mean, I have to say, as dean I'm sitting in my office, and we have more requests for talent in informatics fields than even we can deliver. And, you know, the College of informatics at NKU currently has, you know, two of the top three enrolled majors in campus, and we still can't crank them out fast enough. And that's not just jobs after four years as interns and co- ops while they're students. The demand is there. And I think that's, that's, that's very exciting. And I think there is an informatics related career in demand for almost anyone.

Mike Nitardy:

You know that it's interesting that you say that I'm glad that you brought up not just for the undergraduate students, because what about some of our listeners that might be looking for a change, a career change? What what are some of the areas for them to jump into, and maybe also talk a little bit about the kinds of skills or things of interest that that might benefit those individuals looking to jump into informatics?

Kevin Kirby:

It's a very good question. There's a couple different things one can talk about with career changes, right? Let's start with sort of the most radical type of career change. You're running a restaurant, and you want to do something, I don't know informatical next. It feels like a pretty big switch. Well, first of all, one of the things we deal with an informatics, especially on the tech side, especially narrowly on the computing side, is a lot of people go through many years of school and life, really not knowing if they have an aptitude...

Mike Nitardy:

Right

Kevin Kirby:

...say for computing...

Mike Nitardy:

Right. Right.

Kevin Kirby:

...right? Computer Science coding is often not taught in schools, it's often until very recently, perhaps not even taught well, in schools. It's new and fast changing. So whereas most of us by the time to reach junior high, or certainly high school have a sense of "Oh, I like I lik ...that perhaps I'd like to be creative and write English class I like to write " or "I love math," or "I love chemistry," we may not eve have explored that side of our elves... code.

Mike Nitardy:

Mmm hmm.

Kevin Kirby:

So there's that latent talent that might be out there in potential career changers, that they don't even know about. So they're unlikely to come back and get a, say, a second bachelor's or even a first bachelor's or a master's degree, but they may want to sample it first. So we're actually trying to deal with that in the College of informatics. You'll be hearing more about it is the year moves on. This Taste of Informatic series, short little workshop that we do a couple hours in a afternoon where you can meet with some experts and learn a little bit hands-on on what these fields are like, what's artificial intelligence, like what's IT like? What's health campaigns like? And there'll be lots of topics that roll out over time. So you can get a little sample of that. And if you like that, you can go a little deeper. There could b microcredentials, there could e training courses. Of cour e there always degrees as wel

Mike Nitardy:

Kevin, I have to thank you This has been so insightful and and really thank you so much for taking the time to join us in the cafe today. Even socially distanced as it is.

Kevin Kirby:

Yes.

Mike Nitardy:

Once again, we want to thank Dean Kevin Kirby for joining us today in the Informatics Cafe. And if you're interested in learning more about informatics topics, mor information is available at nku.edu/coi-events, or by click ng the link on our podcast pa e. Thanks so much. Have a reat day.