The Profession of Modeling and Simulation: An interview with co-editor Andreas Tolk

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  • Author: Statistics Views
  • Date: 20 Feb 2018

Towards the end of last year, Wiley was proud to publish The Profession of Modeling and Simulation: Discipline, Ethics, Education, Vocation, Societies, and Economics by co-editors Andreas Tolk and Tuncer Ören.

From traffic control to disaster management, supply chain analysis to military logistics, healthcare management to new drug discovery, modeling and simulation (M&S) has become an essential tool for solving countless real-world problems. M&S professionals are now indispensable to how things get done across virtually every aspect of modern life. This makes it all the more surprising that, until now, no effort has been made to systematically codify the core theory, knowledge, and technical expertise needed to succeed as an M&S professional.

thumbnail image: The Profession of Modeling and Simulation: An interview with co-editor Andreas Tolk

This book brings together contributions from experts at the leading edge of the modeling and simulation profession, worldwide, who share their priceless insights into issues which are fundamental to professional success and career development in this critically important field. Running as a common thread throughout the book is an emphasis on several key aspects of the profession, including the essential body of knowledge underlying the M&S profession; the technical discipline of M&S; the ethical standards that should guide professional conduct; and the economic and commercial challenges today’s M&S professionals face.

• Demonstrates applications of M&S tools and techniques in a variety of fields—such as engineering, operations research, and cyber environments—with over 500 types of simulations

• Highlights professional and academic aspects of the field, including preferred programming languages, professional academic and certification programs, and key international societies

• Shows why M&S professionals must be fully versed in the theory, concepts, and tools needed to address the challenges of cyber environments

The Profession of Modeling and Simulation is a valuable resource for M&S practitioners, developers, and researchers working in industry and government. Simulation professionals, including administrators, managers, technologists, faculty members, and scholars within the physical sciences, life sciences, and engineering fields will find it highly useful, as will students planning to pursue a career in the M&S profession.

Alison Oliver talks to Professors Tolk and Oren about this exciting new book, described by Alfred (Al) Grasso, President & CEO of The MITRE Corporation as “ …nearly three dozen experts in Modeling and Simulation (M&S) coming together to make a compelling case for the recognition of M&S as a profession… Important reading for anyone seeking to elevate the standing of this vital field.”


1. Congratulations on the recent publication of your book The Profession of Modeling and Simulation: Discipline, Ethics, Education, Vocation, Societies, and Economics which is described as ‘a definite guide to the theory, knowledge, technical expertise, and ethical considerations that define the M&S profession.’ How did the writing process begin?

The book itself is dedicated to the late William (Bill) F. Waite (1946 – 2015) who has been a pioneer in modelling and simulation (M&S). He was working with us – the editors of this book – and many of our colleagues on many different challenges, all of them driven by our commonly shared passion to make M&S a real discipline, and not just a tool to be used by other disciplines. We agreed that there is M&S Science, trying to understand and develop underlying theory and principles of scientific work, which is why we started to collect work making up the body of knowledge. We all were convinced that without a strong ethical foundation, M&S could not succeed, so we compiled a code of ethics. Education and vocation naturally followed, as curriculums are derived from the knowledge, and finally, somebody has to pay for it, so without economics, there is no viable discipline.

When Bill died in the summer of 2015, Tuncer and I contacted many of his friends and colleagues who helped him on the way. Due to the diversity, some of them never worked together before. Some were in academia, other in industry, others were working in the government. But they all contributed to the many facets that make up the profession of M&S. The objective of the resulting compendium was to provide a view on these many fields and domains and interweave them to show that we really are a profession, with all topics addressed that are usually identified when asking the question: is M&S really its own discipline? And our answer is: yes, it is! And all the chapters are delivering part of the proof needed to justify this answer.

2. What were your main objectives during the writing process?

The huge diversity of application domains, viewpoints, and professional backgrounds was very challenging for the editorial process. Some authors were used to writing journal papers addressing a mathematically well-educated community; others were used to providing material to Congress to make the case for simulation; and some had never written a chapter or a proceedings paper before. But this variety of thoughts, the diversity of ideas, and application problems is what makes M&S so special! Working this process out for the reader to show how this multitude of ideas are interwoven into a common discipline was the motivation behind everything.

3. Why is modelling and simulation so important and its reach so broad today?

M&S is everywhere! The idea of modelling is deeply rooted in our scientific process. Every experiment is based on a model, every theory is a model in itself. And with the continuous advance of computer technology, the use to execute such models, or to simulate the theory, is a logical step. We are currently witnessing the rise of many new computational sciences, some of them leading to tremendous break throughs – like the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, which was made possible by the simulation of complex physical models to guide the observation – and many people do not realize yet that this is modelling (the science part) and simulation (the computational part).

4. You have brought together contributions from experts at the leading edge of the modeling and simulation profession, worldwide, who share their priceless insights into issues which are fundamental to professional success and career development in this critically important field. Could you please give us a taster of one of these issues?

All chapters contribute at lot, from describing and comparing the education at various colleges and universities to the different funding sources for research to new domains, like using M&S to better understand cyber challenges. But one of the most interesting chapters for me was the description of the M&S profession in China. I knew that a strong M&S community existed, but to see the variety of challenges and topics helped me to get a much better understanding.

5. If there is one piece of information or advice that you would want your reader to take away and remember after reading your book, what would that be?

M&S is not only a discipline with a strong profession, it is the discipline of the future, in which we will put even more emphasis on computational science. Our insight will be shaped by the epistemology of simulation, so M&S will not only be a pillar of scientific work, it will become a foundation of future scientific work.

6. Who should read the book and why?

I hope that every scholar of M&S reads the book to see the breadth and variety of the field. I also hope that computational scientists will get a hand on it, as we can share many lessons learned that can be turned into dead-ends and pitfalls avoided.

7. Why is this book of particular interest now?

The computational science and simulation era has just begun. We have seen early success stories, but the tidal wave is still to come. Scientific thinking leads to modelling; computational thinking is powerful and should be known to scholars as well, which leads to simulation. But not only what can be done is important, we also need to understand and communicate what cannot be done. Therefore, the book was written to bring the various experts together, to lay the foundation to address these questions in the future.

8. Were there areas of the book that you found more challenging to write, and if so, why?

We had a challenging, but also very rewarding job as editors. Everybody wanted to give the best, and the result speaks for itself.

9. What is it about the area of M&S that fascinates you?

When I studied computer science as a young man, my professors came from many different fields, and none of them was a computer scientist, as this was a new and emerging discipline. Today, we have young women and men studying M&S with the same expectation: that their field is an emerging discipline, ready to enable a better future for all of us. Well, I am still young at heart, as I share this belief.

10. What will be your next book-length undertaking?

There are many ideas floating around. I just finished a book commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Winter Simulation Conference. Part of this anniversary conference was a history track, organized by Professor Robert G. Sargent from Syracuse University. This showed me that we do not have a real history book on M&S, one that looks at many more places and provides something for every M&S scholar to identify with, but that may be a huge endeavour.

11. What was it that introduced you each to statistics as a discipline and what was it that led you to pursue engineering and computer science, respectively, as a career?

As a student, I loved mathematics and physics, but when I joined the German Armed Forces, I was told that the army needs something more applicable, so they offered to pay for my studies of computer science. When I returned to the university as a scientific officer some years later, NATO was just interested in better understanding the various defence options during the Cold War, so I learned what simulation can do. When I left the army, I realized that the mathematics behind my simulations and concepts behind my models are not limited to defence applications, and that is how my story begun.

Andreas Tolk, PhD, is Technology Integrator for the Modeling, Simulation, Experimentation, and Analytics Division of The MITRE Corporation, an adjunct professor in the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering and the Department for Modeling, Simulation, and Visualization Engineering at Old Dominion University, and an SCS fellow.

Tuncer Ören, PhD, is Professor Emeritus of Computer Science at the University of Ottawa. He is an SCS fellow and an inductee to SCS Modeling and Simulation Hall of Fame. His research interests include advancing methodologies, ethics, body of knowledge, and terminology of modeling and simulation.

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