Category Archives: PFP14S

Posts specifically for the Preparing the Future Professoriates class in Spring 2014. These posts will center around issues affecting professors today.

“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes”

I just read this NY Times article which is a longitudinal study of college freshmen. I thought it was incredibly interesting as it showed the generational differences. I think the last sentence of the article summed up the story best:

“The inner world wanes; professional intensity waxes.”

After our intense (and extensive) discussions about grades, it was really interesting to see the statistics about how the average grades have changed. Grades have gone up, but the workload has decreased. With all of this…students still feel more anxiety. Long term, we’re more unhappy. To me, this makes the point extremely clear – something has got to change in education. There are some major disconnects in our educational system. But where do we start with the solution? What do you think falls under our responsibility as professors? Is it our job to try to change this in higher education or is that a problem for elementary, middle, and high school teachers?

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What would I change in higher education?

This is an interesting question…one that I’ve thought a lot about but somehow I keep getting stuck on it.

I think the thing that sticks out to me is the expectations that are placed on faculty. On the first day of class, we came up with a list of 22 distinct jobs that faculty are called to do. If they did a 40 hour week, that means they have less than 2 hours to do each task per week. Most classes meet for at least 3 hours a week, so they’re already behind without even beginning to grade. “Research” was listed as one of the 22 tasks, without breaking it down into components. Can you imagine a world where faculty only spend 2 hours a week doing research? I don’t think Virginia Tech would continue to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants every year with that philosophy. So what ends up happening? Well, professors work. A lot.

So what would I change about higher education today? I would put less focus on doing everything and more focus on doing some things well. While this may not seem like it would have a big impact on the way education is done in the US, I think our culture has become so focused on doing everything and doing everything better than the next person that we don’t just enjoy life anymore. I’ve seen it in the workplace, but the place I see it the most is in my faculty. They are all swamped with work, running around and trying to do a million different things at one time. While many of them do manage to do a good job of teaching, researching, and giving me feedback, I know that there are other areas of their life that probably suffer.

Did my adviser just miss dinner with his family because he stayed late to meet with me?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this is a problem that is limited to education, but it’s the thing that I most want to change about American culture, and academia is just one place to start. What if our college students saw in their professors people who know how to say no in order to have the time to say yes to the things that really matter in life? Would they enter the workforce with a different perspective? Would that result in those students, now professionals, making choices that will enrich their lives rather than just their bank accounts? Could we learn how to just chill out in America?

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Faculty and Social Media

I found this infographic about Faculty Use of Social Media and thought it was pretty cool. I imagine many of my classmates will find the same one because it’s like the first thing that shows up, but it is just so colorful and pretty that I couldn’t resist.

Overall, it summarizes a variety of different aspects related to faculty and social media. The bullets below are the highlighted points from the infographic:

  • While most faculty are using social media, the majority are using it for personal reasons, rather than professional or teaching use.
  • Across all personal, professional, and teaching use of social media by faculty, it is clear that younger faculty are leading the way.
  • Different sites are used for different needs.
  • One area where adoption is almost universal is in the use of video for teaching.
  • Attitudes towards social media are fluid and evolving. All perceived barriers have decreased. The largest decrease was seen in the perception that social media is time-consuming.

What picture does this paint for us? I think one of the most clear things is that social media is consistently working its way into higher education. As faculty age, digital natives – or those that grew up in a digital age and using social media – will join the ranks of current faculty. This alone will result in increased use of social media in higher education. Video is one of the older forms of technology as far as dispersing information, and it makes sense that it would be the most widely used. It also has clear uses and additionally it can easily parallel the traditional face-to-face classroom experience that is deeply ingrained in our educational system. I think the need that this infographic brings to light is the need to better understand how to incorporate social media for the benefit of the instructor and the students. The one thing worse than completely excluding technology and by extension social media from the classroom is using technology in an inefficient or inappropriate way. This will result in frustration and aversion from incorporating social media.

Overall, there is room for social media to be incorporated into our higher education system. In a world that is increasingly incorporating technology throughout all aspects of life, it is vital that our students experience this integration from early on so they can learn to navigate it effectively.

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Being Faculty – feedback appreciated!

Hey! I’m still formulating my being faculty statement, and I would really appreciate any feedback that any of y’all have to give…

On the first day of Preparing the Future Professoriate, we discussed the wide variety of hats that every professor must wear. From grader to mentor to fundraiser, the different roles required are often time consuming and sometimes incongruent. Because of this huge workload, not all of which is actually outlined in the job description, it is important for every faculty member to carefully assess the components of the job and prioritize time based on personal goals and beliefs.

I want to be a faculty member that chooses to make a difference in the lives of students and an impact on the world for the better. I want to choose people first, even at the sacrifice of some aspects of my career. For me, being faculty means taking the extra time to invest in mentoring students both casually and through formalized programs. I would not have made it as far as I have without a lot of hours that other people invested in me. I spent hours talking to professors, crying in their offices, and discussing plans and options. This time did nothing to promote them or their research, but many people simply listened to me when I needed it and I recognize the huge impact that this had on me.

Obviously, as a professor I expect to do a fair amount of teaching as well. In my opinion, this is one of the two major components of being a professor. As such, I want to be the type of professor that puts forth the extra effort to be engaging and open with students. This follows with choosing people first. Teaching could be made more efficient and easy by simply doing lectures and tests, without much classroom engagement. I think the interesting part of the classes occurs when professors bring in examples, ask for engagement, and provide opportunities for discussions. Projects are far more interesting and provide a better experience of how things work outside of classes. This better prepares students to work in the real world and apply their knowledge rather than regurgitating theories, facts, or working problems just like what they’ve seen before. Projects give a chance to problem-solve, think outside of the box, and set goals. I want to be a professor that chooses the classroom structure that is more engaging even if it requires more preparation from my end.

The other major part of being a professor is doing research. Being a faculty member means taking on this challenge with enthusiasm and performing the highest quality research. I won’t take shortcuts to save time, because without doing the best research I feel like I’ll be selling myself and others short. I will try to incorporate as many students as possible in my research, both as participants and as researchers. I have valued the research experiences that have been offered to me by other professors, and I want to pay this opportunity forward. In doing this, I need to continually remember that these students are learning so I must be patient and maybe invest a little extra time in training and piloting.

Overall, I have some pretty lofty goals. I want to be amazing! More than anything else, to me being faculty means recognizing my limits and accepting them. I need to work within my abilities and give myself the freedom to be less than perfect. In an ideal world, I would be a great mentor, teacher, and researcher, while also filling the other duties that come along with being a professor. However, that may just not be possible, and I simply want to have a balance of work and personal life that allows me to wake up every morning and be thankful for the great opportunity that I have to make a difference with my skills. As soon as I start waking up and dreading the thought of going to work, I want to recognize that things need to change. Knowing my limits, I simply want to be a faculty member that doesn’t lose sight of the main goal which is to make a difference in the lives of my students and to positively impact the world.

 

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Case Study – Data Falsification

In my Preparing the Future Professoriate class, we’ve been discussing ethics, academic misconduct, and how that comes into play in the world of academia. If I’m on a college campus and I hear “ethics”, my mind immediately goes to plagiarism and discrimination. I feel like those two topics are covered over and over again. There are many more ways that ethics come into play in the world of academia. For example, bullying is becoming more common. Finally, one of the things that is hardest for me to understand is data falsification. I can reasonably come up with an explanation for the other types of misconduct (most of which can be boiled down to not knowing better), even if the excuses are thin. However, data falsification seems so intentional.

I read a case summary about Adam Savine, a psychology doctoral student at Washington University of St. Louis. He falsified data in some of his experiments, primarily by changing the results to make them more statistically significant. His consequences were not terribly intrusive. For a 3 year period, he is required to have his research supervised, any papers that he submits must be accompanied by certification from the university that the methods and data are accurate, and he must not attempt to serve in an advisory capacity to the USA Public Health Service. Considering the fact that he intentionally changed his data, it seems pretty mild to me.

It’s easy to be harsh in academic misconduct cases because I just don’t understand what gain you get from making up results. Even if you get more papers published, more power, and more money, you will always know that you cheated. I don’t see how the rest could be worth it. You would always be looking over your shoulder wondering if someone would figure out that you cheated. As a person struggling with Impostor Syndrome already, I don’t see why anyone would want to add a legitimate reason to feel like an impostor.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I began to realize that I have actually falsified data. For a brief period of time I was determined to become a chemical engineer. One summer of going to the sewage treatment plant and experimenting with sludge cured me of that desire. We were working to see if sludge could be recycled and used as bio-diesel.  In concept, it’s a really cool idea with a lot of applications, but for me, it was just incredibly boring. The graduate student that I was working with asked me to test a mass spectrometer to see if it could be used to analyze the specimens. At the time, I knew that I couldn’t really tell a difference from one sample to the next, but I really, really wanted it to work. If it worked, it meant that we could actually get some work done instead of floundering around trying to figure out how to do it. So I looked for the answers that I wanted…it was more subconscious than anything. But I still did it. Luckily, in that instance, they had no intention of actually using my work. We also quickly realized that we needed to run a blind study (so I couldn’t will the right numbers into being) and were able to confirm that there wasn’t really a difference between the samples.

Just like with plagiarism, I think there are definitely instances of willful data manipulation. But there are other instances (like my brief time as a ChemE) where you just really want something to happen and don’t consciously decide to do something wrong. I think it’s important to recognize this because it’s easy for me to make the decision to honestly describe the data that I’ve collected. However, my personal preferences and desires can easily influence my work. We all have to be careful not to let what we want affect the results that we report. 

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Open Access: Journal of Industrial Engineering

The Journal of Industrial Engineering is an open access journal in my discipline. It’s published through the Hindawi Publishing Corporation – a group founded in 1997 that currently publishes 434 open access journals across a variety of disciplines. Throughout the webpage, Journal of Industrial Engineering emphasizes the quality of the published material. There is a 12% acceptance rate and every paper is peer reviewed. Another point of emphasis by the journal is the fact that the journal allows for information to be easily disseminated.

The main purpose of the journal is to provide easy access to research within the field of Industrial Engineering while maintaining a high level of quality. Additionally, there is an uncompromising list of ethics standards for all publications. Violators of the standards will be prevented from submitting anything to the journal for at least 3 years. Journal of Industrial Engineering is clearly determined to set high standards.

There is also a section in which Journal of Industrial Engineering briefly explains the concept of open access. The key points that are covered is the fact that information can be easily shared through the open access model, and that everything is peer reviewed and high quality standards are met. It is interesting to me that it claims to provide “immediate” access to published works; however, the average time from article submission to publication is just under 4 months. That seems like a long time to be “immediate” access.

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Open Access and Laziness

Open access is a hot topic of conversation in the academic world. The key issues in conflict are the ideas of academic and scientific progress vs. high quality publications. Many of those in favor of open access such as Michael Eisen’s opinion editorial proclaim the necessity to share information as soon as it is gained so that progress can be quickly attained in all fields. Websites such as FoldIt have taken on this idea of using crowd-sourcing via the internet to solve complex problems that are seemingly unsolvable. For example, some internet gamers were able to solve a problem in just 3 weeks that had been studied by researchers for 10 years with no luck. However, the converse side of the discussion is the need for high quality publications. One such method of examining the quality of someone’s work is through peer review; scholars well-versed in the field read the paper to verify the scientific merit of the work. This takes time, as more than one scientist typically reviews the paper and it may not be at the top of his or her to do list. Eisen’s reaction to this problem is that peer reviewing should be minimized and peer reviewing should be completed after publishing rather than before. This would take a considerable chunk of time out of the process, getting the information to the public much more quickly. In theory, it’s a great idea. I do think open access is a good thing…but there are still some kinks to work out.

We also spent a good portion of our class last night discussing plagiarism. While sometimes it can be intentional and malicious, we also discussed how many times plagiarism occurs simply because people are lazy. They’re trying to do their work quickly and don’t take the time to make sure everything is done correctly – such as using their own words rather than copying someone else’s words. How does this laziness come into play with open access? I would venture a guess that even in cases that the general public has the knowledge to fully understand, they will not take the time to examine the validity of studies as they are published. One example of this is the debate over the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccine that was hypothesized to cause autism. While recent research has shown no link between the two, it’s still a raging debate (just look at my Facebook news feed). People first heard that the vaccine could be dangerous, and they are not budging from that perspective even though there is credible evidence that shows that their position on the topic may need to be revisited. For me, this suggests the tendency of people to make initial impressions and stick with them even when they are outdated or proven wrong. If the academic world posts information for the general public to see, I really hope there is some type of check system in place to ensure the credibility of the work.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think open access is a good thing, but I don’t think publishing before reviewing is always the best approach. Perhaps we should take a look at the review process and work on ways to streamline that. Regardless, as long as people are lazy in their work, there’s a chance that sub-par papers will get submitted for publication…and as long as people are lazy in their information gathering, they may not do the research to examine quality on their own. There has to be some kind of happy medium to quickly disseminate high quality information to the public.

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Reflections on Communicating Science

While the Communicating Science class was actually very painful for me (I really hate public speaking), I do feel like it helped me to think about my personal connection to my research. Throughout the class, we told our story a total of 3 times. Each time, the purpose was to get us more attuned to sharing it with a wide audience. However, I noticed something as I reflected back on the stories that I told… It was the same story, but with a different flavor.

The first time I explained my research, I gave a very technical explanation (though I tried to keep it as basic as possible) of my research. The person that I told was also in engineering and I feel like he had a good grasp of what I was explaining, but I don’t think it was appropriate for all audiences. The second time  told it, we were supposed to tell our personal connection to our research. This time, I feel like people felt connected to my story because they learned more about me. The third time, I tried to connect my research to others – to explain it to them in a way that would make them care.

While my expectation was to get “better” at telling my story every time, what I realized at the end of class was that I had simply approached the same story from three angles. Each angle has a purpose and a place, and I think it’s important to understand when each of the angles is appropriate!

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My Take on Early College High Schools

Thanks to Noel for posting this blog about early college high schools. I hadn’t really ever heard of that specific concept, especially with such a strong collaboration between high schools and colleges in which the last two years of high school are actually college courses on a college campus.

MSMS

Even though that concept is new to me, I had a similar experience. My last two years of high school were spent at the Mississippi School for Math and Science, located in Columbus, MS on the campus of Mississippi University for Women. I won’t get too deep into the politics of the school, but it is one of those places that constantly struggles to gain funding from legislature and it seems like every year is a real threat that they will shut it down. MSMS is a public, residential high school for academically gifted students in the state of Mississippi. We lived on campus, ate meals at MUW’s cafeteria, and basically were only able to see our parents on the weekends. While my parents lived in Columbus as well, many students were 4-5 hours away from their parents.

As far as the academics go, I think it’s a great idea to have options for gifted students that give them a head start in the college process. I took several AP courses and scored high enough on the test to get credit for several classes. There were also several classes in my curriculum at MSMS that were considered dual enrollment classes which gave me university credit as well as my high school credits. Basically, I technically started college as a sophomore and was able to skip out on most of the freshman level classes.

Here’s the biggest thing that I saw at MSMS – while the classes were indeed challenging, most of the students who left the school chose to go home because they were homesick. Many who failed out of the school were not failing at their home school because they had their support system easily accessible. It’s easy to forget that while academically gifted students are bright, they’re still kids. It isn’t easy to leave home at the age of 16. Even students who can easily take the academic load might find it challenging to uproot like that. MSMS had a very strong support system – the students were extremely close and the faculty/staff really cared about us. Simply having a “strong” support system is not necessarily enough for students.

I think that while early college high schools are a great idea for some students, it’s not a one size fits all problem. It doesn’t replace community colleges either, because community colleges tend to allow students to stay closer to home longer than immediately going to a 4-year university. Overall, while I see the value that such a system can present to us, I think the most important variable in all education is the student. Everyone has different learning styles, support systems, and coping mechanisms. Because of this, it’s vital to have a variety of educational options that meet the needs of each individual.

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College Success for Low Income Students?

Thanks to Ken for posting this link about the changes that are being made to the SATs. After going through changes to the GRE, SAT, ACT, and other such tests, I’ve just come to expect that they’re not going to be the same forever. It’s no surprising news to hear that after still seeing very little correlation between test scores and performance in college/grad school, test administrators are back at making changes to better reflect what they’re trying to test.

When I read it, there was one thing that stuck out to me more than any other. In the middle of the article, amidst all of the ramblings about the differences in tests, there’s this surprising and very sad fact:

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Education show that from 1972 to 2009, the percentage of low-income high school graduates immediately enrolling in college jumped from 23% to 55%. But their overall rate of attaining bachelor’s degrees by age 24 remained essentially unchanged, from 7% to 8%.

It’s exciting to see a substantial increase in lower income students having the ability to go to college. However, I’m concerned when I see that the number of bachelor’s degrees has hardly increased. As many of you are researchers, I’m sure there are a lot of questions that could be unaccounted for by this information (What about the ones that graduated at age 25 or older? etc…). But overall, I think it shows that while educators are improving at getting students to college, they aren’t necessarily succeeding at appropriately preparing lower income students to succeed in college. I wonder where the disconnect is?

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