Interdisciplinarians Are The Future!

Interdisciplinary work is increasingly becoming the way of the future for the natural sciences. More and more often you see work published by researchers of various backgrounds. For instance, you may find a single paper written by an epidemiologist, an economist, and an ecologist. In fact, many higher education institutions are starting to value and encourage interdisciplinary projects, programs, and degrees. By approaching research problems from multiple perspectives at once, researchers are finding more in-depth and robust answers to problems.

More importantly, interdisciplinarians are great collaborators and communicate well simply out of necessity. And, as such, are more equipped to establish well-balanced teams to find suitable and feasible solutions to problems. Although some may say they are “jack of all trades, but master of none”, when it comes to the natural sciences and, particularly, health sciences in relation to animal and economic sciences I would rather have on my team someone familiar with multiple topics able to collaborate with a “master” of sorts when necessary than a “master” unaware of other “masters”.

Math Pun: Why do plants hate math? Because it gives them square roots!
(Today’s math pun brought to you by arithmetic and Exponentials)

The Value of a Higher Education Degree

Most people are taught that getting into college is the only way to get a good job. The way most people justify this is because at the end of college you get a degree that automatically qualifies you for various jobs and pay grades. And although this is somewhat true, it’s not exactly how the world works and its impact is slowly making it more and more untrue.

The reason most people think that a degree is inherently valuable is because it is meant to be a measure of knowledge. College degrees are meant to be proof that you are capable of learning and that you have proven your proficiency in a particular topic. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In fact, many people with the same degree may not know exactly the same things. For instance, someone with a Bachelor’s degree in math at one institution may know applied mathematics in great detail with minimal knowledge of pure mathematics whereas another person with the same degree from a different institution may know more pure mathematics than applied mathematics. There is way too much variation in what a degree can represent for someone making it difficult to gauge exactly what a degree means for employers.

Furthermore, with the aid of grants and more widely available student loans, so many more people are going to college than ever before. Subsequently, more people are graduating college than ever before and more people are entering similar levels of the workforce than ever before. That is, the workforce is so over saturated with college graduates that the value of a degree has been in a stark decline. This becomes so much more clear when most “entry level” jobs require 3-5 years of experience on top of a degree. This is where the variation of degrees comes into play as well. Not only do more entry level jobs expect degrees, but they need to further identify the value and purpose of your degree by requiring a few years of demonstrated core knowledge. (Which is a paradox: you can’t get a job without experience and you can’t get experience without a job)

This is not to say that degrees are worthless or not worth pursuing, but instead that there are other avenues to good jobs that are also worth pursuing. Although the current value of degrees may be declining or obfuscating, people can find it worthwhile to instead find certifications for the core knowledge required for good jobs to exactly indicate their qualifications and proficiency for learning. Additionally, I would like to highlight that college careers are not the only high paying career as careers in the trade have always had a steady value and opportunities for high pay grades as well.

Math Pun: Why are obtuse angles so depressed? Because they are never right.
(Today’s Math pun Brought to you by Trigonometry)

Professors as Educators

Although many people choose to become professors for the freedom to research whatever their hearts desire, at some point, most professors (and even some postdocs) are tasked teaching responsibilities. This experience can be the most rewarding or the most daunting for new professors and their students. A lot of trouble students have in higher education is with professors and their teaching styles. I’m sure most college graduates can remember at least one professor that showed very little interest in teaching, had odd teaching styles, or were the most difficult to academically please. Personally, I believe these issues stem from professors not being prepared to be educators as well as researchers. This is not to say that all professors should take it easy on students and be subservient, instead I propose that professors ideally have some sort of educational training. That is, I believe professors need to be educated as educators as well as researchers.

As for the individuals who have no interest in teaching responsibilities, I feel they should really look for 100% research appointments in academia. There’s nothing worse than sitting through a class that the professor doesn’t even want to sit through. Being a good educator relies heavily on passion and if the passion isn’t there, the educator shouldn’t be either.

MAth Pun: Solve carefully…  25 – 55 + (85+65) = …?  You probably won’t believe it, but this equals 5!
(Today’s Math PUn Brought to you by factorials)

Tips on Collaborating Better

As a student in an interdisciplinary program, learning to collaborate effectively is one of the most useful skills I can have. Although it may not be as important for other disciplines, it is still a very useful skill and can help in more ways than research. Collaboration relies heavily on communication (as you will see), but here are a few tips I’ve learned that are extremely important to collaborating effectively:

  1. Know your audience.
    Knowing your audience is one of the simplest things you can do when collaborating with someone. When you know your collaborator’s familiarity with a topic, it is a lot easier to adjust the level of complexity in your explanations and questions. By doing so, you can avoid jargon speech or miscommunications. The best way to get to know your audience, is to simply ask. For instance, you can ask if your collaborator is familiar with a term you use frequently to gauge their knowledge of a core subject. Based on the response, you can continue your question or explanation in a way you would with a colleague or pose your explanations or questions in a manner you would to new students entirely unfamiliar with a concept… Just be careful not to be condescending in your simplifications!
  2. Know yourself.
    Before you can begin to collaborate with others, you need to know exactly what you need from others. Make sure you know exactly what skills you are lacking, so you can be sure you are collaborating with someone who is proficient in those skills. This will also help you guide your questions and expectations for your collaborator. Even if the first person you contact for collaboration does not have the skills you are looking for, by having a concise explanation of what you need, this person could potentially put you in contact with someone that does have the skills you need.
  3. Keep an open dialogue.
    This is more of a communication tip that should be utilized with all individuals you work with. You should make sure that you keep an open dialogue of expectations and desired outcomes. You should make sure that issues such as authorship and deadlines be hashed out and agreed upon early on in a collaboration. More importantly, keeping in touch with current progress and goals can help make sure everyone is on board and achieve overall goals.

What are some tips you’ve learned in your own experiences with collaborations? Comment more tips below!

Math pun: Why is 1/5 always so stressed out? Because he’s two tenths (too tense)!
(Today’s Math Pun brought to you by algebra)

The Importance of Critical Reading in the Sciences

In the humanities, most students are taught (or even forced) to read critically. That is, being able to actively read a source and interpret more than is at face value. While this is extremely important to scholars in the humanities, this skill is often neglected in the STEM field. Most work in the STEM areas are fairly objective and don’t need a lot of thought. For most instances, like class work and most practical-based research, there’s no need to read critically. However, this can become quite the issue when one conducts literature searches to develop research questions or investigate research methods. It’s at this point where one needs to be able to evaluate particular publications and determine its true purpose for and worth to a given research goal. Thankfully, I have been through courses that have taught me these skills, but I know that it is not a common occurrence. I think that professors in the STEM areas need to deeply consider this and incorporate different opportunities to teach critical reading in their courses.

Math Pun: Why did the Lumberjack have nametags on all of his axes? Because you should always label your axes!
(Today’s Math Pun brought you by graphing)