If you’re like me, you saw saw STEM and thought ‘My god, a committee on Microscopy! Is there one on NMR?’ But no, STEM means ‘Science, Technology, Engineering and Math’. For all the acronym love in the hearing, the witnesses had some very interesting things to say. It’s a bit long and, as a witnesses who thought his mic was off said, ‘I think things went better once we stopped reading from our statements.’
First the less serious bits:
- The committee chair, IL Rep. Daniel Lipinski, opened with some adorable stories about REU. He then followed up with a comment about the ‘Grey Tsunami’ of the Sputnik era of American scientists retiring.
- Much later in (1:09:40) SC Rep. Bob Inglis commented that we apparently need more ‘blond knockout’ scientists to motivate interest in science … I guess he forgot to add ‘with killer racks’. As an unattractive scientist, I was mildly offended.
- Improving the learning experience at the university level is critical. To quote Dr. Mathieu, “90% of those who switch out of STEM cite poor teaching as primary concern…as do 3/4 of those who stay.” (0:37:30)
- The community knows how to improve teaching but there is heavy resistance from those currently established as ‘researchers with teaching duties’ rather than ‘mentors who teach by researching’. In no small part this is because the current rewards system is set up to penalize those who take time from publication oriented research to focus on mentoring.
- The way to improve both issues is to set up a mentoring community for STEM students. This means from the moment they step onto campus, they are placed with fellow STEM students, assigned a mentoring professor, and are involved in hands-on research in the first weeks of being in college.
- The NSF should work to teach / reward this strategy by altering its awards to post-docs and young faculty to reward those who integrate mentoring into their research programs. Only the NSF can really do this, because only the NSF has the respect of the ‘in the trenches’ researchers.
I think the broader theme that came from the hearing is that STEM students, at all levels, want to feel useful. The more useful they feel that they are being, the more engaged they are, and the more they fall in love with their discipline.
(hearing covered by Ars Technica – 03/06/2010)
Hard Science and Blog Interaction
ChemistryBlog’s Mitch posted about an interesting reversibly triboluminescent compound (the pictures are quite impressive) from Dr. Cassandra Fraser. What’s even cooler though, is that he made a mistake in summarizing the article in the post … so the author corrected him in a comment. I probably shouldn’t get excited about it, but it shows the system works:
Someone releases a new piece of knowledge. You extend it (even if that just means disseminating the information further), but you make a mistake. Someone corrects you. You agree, fix the mistake and life moves on.
So simple … but also so rare to see it done both quickly (within hours) and politely. I wish this sort of thing were possible directly with the journals.