Maria Vozmediano is in the Instituto de Ciencia de Materiales de Madrid and works on field theories in condensed matter physics.
What did you train in?
Particle physics and cosmology. String theory.
What are you working on now?
Condensed matter physics.
Do you think of yourself as a quantum field theorist or as a condensed matter theorist?
I consider myself a physicist.
What motivated you to move to this field of research?
As many string physicists, from the string worldsheet I moved to 2D quantum gravity, membranes, anyon physics and anyon superconductivity. Also, fullerenes appeared to me through a solid-state friend, as Dirac physics at the surface of a sphere.
What did you find more difficult when you started working in an area out of your comfort zone?
The phenomenological assumptions of the new field. The Landau-Fermi liquid theory was a great mystery to me till I read an article from J. Polchinski showing it as a fixed point of a renormalization group. It is very hard not to understand what seems obvious to everybody.
And what did you find most helpful to familiarize yourself with new concepts and jargon?
The collaboration with a very good condensed matter practitioner was essential to identify the problems of interest and the approximations used in the field.
Tell us about your experience the first time you went to a conference outside the field you trained in.
I felt horrible. The “impostor syndrome” to a high power. Besides, no friends or well known people to help.
What are the main challenges and the main advantages of working in an interdisciplinary team?
The best is to recognize same problems in disguise. To see the appreciation of simple things when they are seen with different eyes. It is a lot of fun when there is mutual respect and appreciation between people in the complementary field. The problems come from average or mediocre physicists that feel challenged by a different point of view. I have been lucky as the quantum field theory techniques have become a necessity in condensed matter. It is not easy at the beginning when you are seen as an outsider from an “rival field”.
What would be your advice to a PI leading an interdisciplinary group?
To any PI: choose the best people, intelligent and imaginative no matter their expertise.
Do you find it particularly difficult to obtain funding? Or to get your research published?
Publishing has never been a problem. Been accepted by the condensed matter community has been harder. As a theoretician, funding has also not been a problem.
Is there any anecdote you would like to share?
This is not really due to changing fields. Once I was introduced as Dr. Vozmediano to a colleague who told me it was not possible because Vozmediano was a man.