Blog Post 5: International Collaboration

Since the late 1950s, international research collaboration has emerged between countries to achieve better innovation and efficiency. Nowadays, as the progress of globalization, gathering an international team with individuals, universities, organizations and agencies, and using their strength to benefit the related research has become more and more important. In this essay, the author is going to give a brief introduction to the history, current situation, and some thoughts on international collaboration and how it has influenced academia. 

Generally speaking, the international collaboration on research can be achieved in multiple forms, for example, sharing data with other colleagues, exchange thoughts and ideas, visiting each other’s facilities, etc., all these can be regarded as international collaboration and can bring some advantages to the collaborators. If we take a look back to the history of scientific research, it is easy to find out that these forms of collaboration have never stopped, and have triggered some most prosperous times with some most brilliant names. For instance, in the 16th century, the mathematicians and physicists tend to write letters to communicate with other to share new findings and achievements, the intellectual communication between those brilliant minds, represented by Sir Issac Newton, brought to the birth of the system of classic physics and built the foundation for the industrial revolution. Another example is in the 19th century, the communication between the scientists excited and stimulated each other and build the modern physics system, which contributed to the invention of nuclear power and modern electronics technologies. 

Figure 1. The picture of the fifth Solvay Conference, among the attendees are some most well-known names including Albert Einstein and Marie Curie

After the 1990s, the trend of globalization and the emergence of the internet has brought much convenience to international communication and further stimulated it. 

Figure 2. The percentage of the research publication that involves international collaboration in the United States

Figure 2 illustrates the percentage of the research outcome in the United States that is related with international collaboration according to the largest international academic journal publisher Elesvier, it can be noticed that the rate grows steadily in the trend, and the percentage grows from below 20% to almost 40%, considering the amount of the overall publication is also growing, the number indicate that the collaboration is very popular nowadays. 

Another large country, China, has the similar trend, however, due to the relative lower research level and more occlusive government policies, the trend didn’t start to go up until around the year of 2000. 

Figure 3. The percentage of the research publication that involves international collaboration in China

The reason for the rise of international collaboration result from several reasons and can mainly categorized into the following:

Figure 4. The international space station

  1. Combination of resource. As the topic of research has become more and more subdivided, it becomes more and more difficult to be an expert in a certain research area in a short period of time to solve all the issues met in the research process, and the easiest way is to organize a team and get help from each other. In an even bigger picture, the collaboration may be organized by multiple governments from different countries to gather resources for exploring the frontier of human technology. A most famous example is the International Space Station (ISS), which is led by the U.S. government and involves more than 16 countries, this result of collaboration greatly fostered research in medicine, ecology and other areas of science.
  2. Innovation. One good reason for choosing to collaborate internationally is to bring in people from different thinking patterns and culture backgrounds and introduce some out of box thoughts and ideas and help to generate innovations.
  3. Funding opportunities. More and more funding agencies have open opportunities to international researchers, working with other researchers can help to gain the chance of getting additional funding support to conduct non-sensitive research. For example, the United States National Science Foundation announced to have supported more than $11.5 million funding to 9 international collaborative projects on grand scientific challenges.
  4. Other reasons. There also remain other reasons for the researchers to be motivated to involve in international research, for example, to share information to avoid meaningless effort, accelerate personal career growth, proof of leadership in a certain research field, take advantage of the existing research equipment or facilities, etc. For example, in the field of astronomy, it is financially impossible and unnecessary to build large telescopes in every country. As a result, the design and construct of large telescopes often involves intellectual and financial investment from multiple countries, and most telescopes are open to all the researchers globally to make the full use of the equipment. 

Figure 5. The Gran Telescopio Canarias in Spain which involves effort from Spain, the United States, German and Mexican, etc.

For the reasons mentioned above, the collaboration is usually encouraged by the science management agencies in different countries, however, like the coin has two sides, the collaboration can also meet difficulties and challenges, and can bring negative impact to the collaboration

Figure 6. J. Robert Oppenheimer, one of the leading scientist and project leader for Manhattan Project

  1. Research management. The management of an international project which involves multiple participants can always be challenging, not only can the different countries have different policies, the collaborated projects themselves can be large, and require someone with adequate experience and prestige to manage. 
  2. Intellectual property and data sharing. The ownership of the intellectual outcome of the research that involves multiple collaborators can always be difficult to decide, especially when the funding comes from different countries. In addition, the research data can introduce more complicated problems, especially how it should be published. These problems need to be considered and solved in advance to guarantee it won’t outbreak at the end of the project. Another situation is some researchers may use the research data that they already achieved in one country to apply for projects in another country, which technically should be considered as research misconduct, however, due to lack of communicating mechanism, it can be difficult to discover behaviors like this. 
  3. Culture and language barrier. Although English is being recognized as the most used international language in the field of scientific research, people from different cultural backgrounds can have conflict in the way of thinking and behaving. Moreover, for a non-native speaker, communicating in another language can always be less efficient and more effort consuming. 
  4. Political reason. As mentioned previously in the advantage of international collaboration, one reason for the government to encourage international collaboration is to grab the leading position in a certain research field, however, it can be challenging if multiple countries seek to compete for that position. Whatsmore, due to national security reasons, the government may restrict some research areas to researchers from a different country. For example, even some universities in the United States are willing to accept international students to major in some sensitive major, the student can have a large chance of being rejected to receive a visa for studying that. 

At this time, with the spread of the COVID-19, the world seeks more than ever the collaboration of international collaboration to overcome this challenge for human beings. Yet, it is disappointing to find out that a lot of governments turn their policy to conservatism and isolationism and hold a negative attitude towards international collaboration on solving this issue. Closing the door for sharing and collaborating can benefit no one and only causing more death of innocent people. I hope this situation can be changed and let the world hold hands together to win this battle against the virus. 

Extra blog post 4: Ageism in Higher Education

Recently, my advisor invited a faculty member who received her Ph.D. in her late 40s to give a lunch talk on how she decided to quit the role of being a housewife and go back to academia. During the talk, she mentioned that there definitely exists ageism in higher education where aged people can not compete fairly with the young ones and she is very lucky to get the job for she had a really good personal relationship with the searching committee. 

Leaving her amazing life experience aside, we have to admit that the ageism in higher education has been existing for a long time and the current situation is still not very good. One common idea for the bias in aged people is “The young ones are simply smarter and have more possibility”. Although most universities will claim they treat all candidates equally, yet it still is the elephant in the room that they prefer the young ones. 

However, this situation has attracted the attention of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and they started to look into it and already made some moves, for example, suing the universities as employers to treat the candidates unfairly. In 2008, the EEOC sued SFSU (San Francisco State University) for hiring a young faculty rather than a more experienced faculty. In addition, EEOC is raising more and more cases to change the current situation. 

I think the current situation is changing but there are still a lot of things we can do to speed it up. 

Extra blog post 3: Regional difference for the college entrance exam in China

The other day I read an essay on educational deserts in the United States, which claims that in some of the midwest states, the educational resource is very limited thus it is very difficult for the kids there to get good education and finally enter a good university. The same thing actually exists in China as well and I would like to give an introduction on it. 

The college entrance exam, also known as GaoKao, is the exam that all the high school students take to get into college. Different provinces usually organize their own exams but in similar subjects (Chinese, Math, English, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, etc). Then based on the test results, all the students in each province will be ranked based on their final score. The student with a higher rank has the priority to choose the university and department that they want to attend. The overall process is usually only based on their GaoKao exam results, which is very fair within the province. 

However, when it comes to the province level, things become different. Different universities usually give each province different numbers of students they allow, yet the number in different provinces makes huge differences. Take the two best universities in China, the Tsinghua University and Peking University as example, the number of students allowed in Beijing is 791 in 2018 whereas the total students taking the exam is around 63,000. In the province Hebei where I come from, the total students accepted by these two universities are 164, but more than 450,000 students take the exam. More explicitly, students in Beijing have around 1.25% of chance of getting into the best university of China whereas the students in Hebei is only 0.036%, the rate is more than 34 times. Some may argue that it is the same in the United States, however, as the funding of the university mostly comes from the central government rather than the provincial government. It is clearly unfair for the students in other provinces as their tax is also used in funding the universities in Beijing. 

The government is making progress in reforming this situation, for example, by giving more quota to the rural provinces and the provinces that don’t have very good education resources. But there is a lot of resistance to the reforming as most of the high officials’ children are in Beijing. So we can imagine the same situation may continue for a long time and only minor change can happen.

The future of higher education: affordable education for everyone

The universities always claim that everyone has the same chance of accepting higher education, yet it is not always the case. The study has shown that the average debt for the class of 2018 is $29,200, or $7,300 per year for a four-year public college, and the number is still growing every year as the tuition fee is also increasing. The amount of money that needs to be paid to get into a college has clearly stopped a certain number of people from getting into college because they believe the cost has outweigh the benefit they can get, especially if you consider the bad job market in these years for the fresh graduated students. 

However, I still believe there is a reason beyond financing issues that people should take higher education, for example, the college graduates are usually more satisfied with their jobs and have a higher satisfactory and higher self-esteem. They are usually also more prepared and have border knowledge to help them get more possibilities. So a college degree will definitely be worthy of the price paid for. 

Due to the funding cut for the government to the universities, the tuition fees has become the most important funding resource for the public universities to maintain and survive, which means the pressure of the government has been transferred to normal students. So in the future, I hope two things can happen for a more open and inclusive higher education system, one is that education can be more affordable, the other is that higher education can be open to everyone. 

The first is related to the government can invest more on the higher education, make the students from the poor family can also have the chance of getting into the college. The second one is that more quotas should be open and everyone can get the chance to get higher education with high quality, although it might be difficult, but I believe with the help of online education system and advanced AI technology, that should be able to happen in the near future.

Blog Post 4: Regional difference in education in China

Candice previously wrote a very interesting blog that introduced us to the unfairness of regional education in the United States. The same thing actually exists in China as well and in this blog I would like to give an introduction on it. 

The education in China has four stages, the first stage is the primary school which is compulsive and lasts for 6 years long, the second is middle school, which is also compulsive and lasts for 3 years. After that, the compulsive education ends and things become very competitive. The third stage is a three-year high school and after which the high school students all take the most famous College Entrance Exam (also known as GaoKao) to get into a university to start their four-year higher education. 

The first difference is in the level of different provinces, take the GaoKao as an example, different provinces usually organize their own exams but in similar subjects. Then based on the test results, all the students in that province will be ranked based on their grades. The student with a higher rank has the priority to choose the university and department that they want to attend. The overall process is usually only based on their GaoKao exam results, which is very fair within the province. However, when it comes to the province level, things become different. Different universities usually give each province different numbers of students they allow, yet the number in different provinces makes huge differences. Take the two best universities in China, the Tsinghua University and Peking University as example, the number of students allowed in Beijing is 791 in 2018 whereas the total students taking the exam is around 63,000. In the province Hebei where I come from, the total students accepted by these two universities are 164, but more than 450,000 students take the exam. More explicitly, students in Beijing have around 1.25% of chance of getting into the best university of China whereas the students in Hebei is only 0.036%, the rate is more than 34 times. Some may argue that it is the same in the United States, however, as the funding of the university mostly comes from the central government rather than the provincial government. It is clearly unfair for the students in other provinces as their tax is also used in funding the universities in Beijing. In recent years, the government is making changes on this issue, however, the progress is very slow and only 2-5 quotas are changed every year, this is partially because the resistance for the reform is very large as most senior officials’ children are in Beijing. 

One result of this unfairness is that the students at Beijing have smaller pressure to get into a good university and are able to spend more time on their hobbies and interests, whereas the students at other provinces are in a much more tense atmosphere and spend most of their time studying to get better grades. When I was in college, I was often surprised by the broadness of hobbies that my classmates from Beijing or Shanghai have, because some of those hobbies can take a lot of time to practice and that is the time we do not have in high school. The unfairness also brings some unique phenomenon that probably only exist in China, for example, the GaoKao immigration where parents move to provinces of higher chance in getting into good universities to help their kids. Another example is the existence of militarized high school, where students are administered as in military in daily life to maximum their time usage on studying for the GaoKao exam, the timeline is restricted strictly in these high schools, for example, the lunch time is restricted to 10min so the saved time can be used to study math and physics. 

The second part I want to introduce is the difference between the cities and rural areas, as I grew up in the city where I can have multiple approaches to get good teaching and a quiet place to study, I always regard convenient education with adequate resources as a natural thing. This idea changed dramatically when I joined a small group to go to the rural area in one of the poorest provinces in China to conduct an investigation on compulsive study. I was shocked by the education situation there, although the kids there can still get the compulsive education required by the government, it is not easy. Firstly, as not every village has a primary school, some kids need to go to other villages for school, and some of them have to spend more than two hours on road everyday. Moreover, the salary for the teachers in these schools are usually very low, so it is very difficult to keep good teachers there, once they are experienced, they tend to move to good schools in town to live a better life. At last, after the stage of compulsive study, the kids in these areas usually choose to go outside and earn money instead of continue their study, because a lot of them fail to see the advantage and meaning of getting higher education. 

After the investigation trip, I become a advocator for the online education, as I know although there is still a lot of disadvantages exist in the online education currently, however, for the kids in these rural areas, it is probably the only solution for them to get access to the education with high quality. Moreover, the internet can bring them the chance to see what is going on in the outside world and boarder their knowledge to make wise decisions. 

The two differences I mentioned in this blog have existed for a long time in China. Currently, I cannot see any evidence for the first one to change in a short period of time, so the only thing I can do is to try to get a living permit in Beijing if I go back to China so that my kids can live an easier life. However, the second one has been improved quickly with the internet, and hopefully can be solved given more time.

Extra blog post 2: Gender Equality in Higher Education

For a long period of time, higher education, especially at the level of doctorate study, was a private right for males and exclusive to females. Take the year of 1970 as an example, more than 58,000 male got their Ph.D. degree in 1970-1971 in the United States, whereas the number for the female is only less than 7,000 and the difference is more than 8 times. Since the 1970s, with the movement of women’s equal rights, females have been involving more and more into higher education and the situation has changed. Nowadays, there are equal or even more female Ph.D. graduates compared with male each year, indicating that the right for getting a good education is equal now between the two genders. 

However, only the number of degrees acquired is clearly not enough, there exists a gender bias when it comes to applying for a faculty position. In all the tenure track faculty positions, females only occupied about 38%, although some of the problem may be resulted from the historical issues, some approaches can still be applied to promote and foster the position for females in higher education. For example, give more time for a tenure position evaluation to female faculty when they give birth to a child which definitely takes away a lot of time for them to work on their research, or give more service positions to female faculties in different research societies as now the positions are mostly occupied by male. At last, I think the gender bias in higher education still exists and there are still a lot of things we can do about this issue.

Extra blog Post 1: Different faculty, different style

Based on observation, I think it is pretty easy to find that different faculty have different styles, no matter if it is on teaching, research or advising students, these styles can greatly influence the feeling or the performance of the students. Yet, not a lot of people mention that previously so I would like to give a little bit thought on that. 

People are different, so are faculties. They definitely have different personalities and would choose different ways of dealing with things. Take doing research as an example, my advisor is very energetic and is ambitious in doing research, he always chooses to do all that he can to speed up the projects and push the students to work harder, so the delivery can be given on time and students get to be trained with a lot of knowledge out of their research topic. Working with him means a lot of pressure everyday but you gain a lot of project experience after everything. On the other hands, some faculty believe students can get the best inspiration when they feel comfortable, they want to build a safe environment for their students the best they can so the students can work and think freely to generate some new ideas. I wouldn’t say which style is better, but if you happen to have the advisor who has the working style you like, I think the research experience is going to be fairly pleasant. That is another reason I think the university probably wants to encourage students to transfer between academic advisors to get a more comfortable environment they suit. 

However, good advising always shares some similarity, for example, being responsive, encouraging and supportive. Setting a high pace style shouldn’t be equal to using students as free labor and giving them extra tasks they can’t finish, and similarly, building a safe environment doesn’t mean the advisor can totally ignore the students and don’t give them enough advice. 

As a potential future faculty, I believe setting up a personal style can actually help you to be distinct from the other faculty and attract students who have the same style as you do, which will probably be a happy ending for both sides. That is why I think on the faculty introduction page, adding some personal introduction rather than just list the research interests could probably better help the potential students to choose which is the real advisor they want. 

Online learning platforms are reforming the higher education

Due to the spread of the Corona Virus, almost every university in the United States has transferred its courses online. It is a little bit sudden for the faculty who are not very familiar with the form of online teaching or have never used it before. But for some other faculty who work in higher education. They have been very used to online teaching and getting in love with it.

When we talk about the online course and traditional in-class course, it seems that the online course platforms like MOOCs are in competition with the traditional higher education forms, it is true that the online platform is taking some potential students away from universities, but a lot of faculty from the university actually love to share their class online. There are several reasons for that:

  1. A lot of faculty has a natural desire to share knowledge, especially after they have been teaching a certain class for years and very familiar with the material they are using, they stop to concentrate on improving the class and start to give some thoughts on how to let their class be wildly spread to benefit more students, the online platform actually gives them this opportunity. It can be noticed that a lot of very famous professors have already put their courses online for free so that a lot more people can learn from them.
  2. Most students who are taking online courses have a strong intention to learn the course well. The students on the online learning platforms are mostly learning based on their needs in real life, so they tend to be more serious about the course and have a stronger intention to get well on the materials of the course so they can gain an advantage in their real life. So it gives the faculty more interest in teaching on the online platform for the students are more eager to learn.
  3. The online platform provides the faculty with more flexibility in their teaching. Instead of being restricted to following the schedules of the timetable from the university, the materials and timeline for the online courses are more flexible. If one professor feels like to talk about a small topic, he could easily open an online course with 5-6 hours of material and finish the course, which is impossible for traditional education.

I admit that online teaching has some disadvantages as well. Yet I still think more and more faculty in higher education will be attracted to it and probably make it as a regular standard teaching approach in the future.

Blog Post #3, Age Discrimination

The pandemic of Coronavirus is spreading fast all over the world. During this time, I hope every one of you can stay safe and we shall work together to get over it. However, a few young teenagers on their spring break clearly doesn’t think the same way where they kept enjoying the extended break they had due to the pandemic. Here is a video I saw on twitter, a few students tried to keep partying regardless of the restriction of “Social Distancing” to prevent the virus from further spreading.

I believe the reason behind this is because the COVID-19 is a virus that more dangerous to the elderly people, the data has shown that 8 out of 10 death cases caused by the virus is reported from people that are 65 years old and older, whereas the younger people, especially the teenagers, have a better immune system and can recover by themselves.

When the Trump administration first announced that the COVID-19 is an epidemic is the U.S., I was having an interview with students from other places of America, during the lunch break, some students from California were talking about how the flights are cheap and they should take this chance to go to Hawaii for spring break. I asked if they are afraid of the virus, and they told me the virus does not hurt young people. All these things happening to make me feel very sad for the elderly people where the threat to their lives is treated like nothing important to some youngsters.

Then I started to reflect on what is the real situation that aged people are living on, if a lot of people are treating their lives as something unimportant and does not matter, how can we hope that they can be treated fairly on other aspects, especially on the job market where there is a long history of discriminating the aged people. I did some research on that and the results are pretty astonishing, in the year of 2018, a survey found that:

  • Nearly 1 in 4 workers age 45 and older have been subjected to negative comments about their age from supervisors or coworkers
  • About 3 in 5 older workers have seen or experienced age discrimination in the workplace.
  • 76 percent of these older workers see age discrimination as a hurdle to finding a new job.
  • More than half of these older workers are prematurely pushed out of longtime jobs and 90 percent of them never earn as much again.

As the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states,” The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are age 40 or older.” A lot of employers still careless of the Act and keeps discriminating against the olds and treat them differently, tons of cases where old people are being discriminated against or humiliated for being aged can be found online. There have been too many of them where we even start to treat it as a normal ordinary thing.

Between the year from 1997 and 2018, there are about 423,000 claims related to age discrimination are filed by EEOC, which occupied about 22% of the overall cases on workplace discrimination. If you think that already showed how severe the situation is for the age discrimination, you need to wait for another second, because another survey showed that only 3% of the old people who faced age discrimination would fill in a formal claim to the EEOC. Although most of them hate and reluctant to be treated unfairly, 97% of them just remain silent and choose not to report that, because if they do not report, there is still a chance of reaching to a truce with their employer for compensation or early retirement choice, however, if they don’t accept the situation and filled a claim, they may be end-up with nothing.

Due to lack of necessary education and severe penalty on this issue, the ageism nowadays is wildly embraced in the U.S. companies, and the most famous one is “young people are simply smarter” by Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of the famous technology company Facebook. Although he received a lot of criticizing from saying that sentence, it has been acknowledged by most people that Silicon Valley companies do prefer young ones over the old ones. This recognition can further discourage the aged people to be involved in the technology business and make them less confident. There have been multiple cases reported where people change their age on the resume to get a better rate of being hired.

I have my own experience on this issue to share as well, in our lab, there are two Ph.D. students who are relatively older than me, both of them had work experience in the industry and come back to school for their degree. However, after 5 years of studying, the find out they couldn’t even find a job that is the same position before they went back to school. They told me most of the recruiters just take a look at them and assume they will be less energetic and involved in the job. As their colleague, I would say they are as professional and talented as any other students, yet the challenges they met is definitely more difficult.

I think the ageism problem should be resolved to create a better environment as everyone will get aged someday, and all people who are willing to work should be treated equally. The government should come up with more regulations and restrictions on inequality existing. Universities and other educational organizations should provide more chances for the aged groups to be trained for new technologies. I believe if we build an environment of age-friendly with respect, someday it will repay the youngsters when they grow old.

At last, if you have an elderly at home who is especially vulnerable to the virus, please be very cautious and build a safe environment for them, like what is shown in the twitter below:

Thanks for reading and I sincerely wish everyone safe and healthy.

Open Access Blog

I would like to approach the topic of open access by introducing one young yet fast-growing journal. The name of the journal is Journal of Marine Science and Engineering (JMSE), and the journal was first established in the year of 2013. The journal belongs to the well-known open access publisher MDPI, who is very proud to be the pioneer in the open access movement by announcing themselves as “MDPI is a pioneer in scholarly open-access publishing and has supported academic communities since 1996”.

The aims and the scope for the journal are “Journal of Marine Science and Engineering (JMSE; ISSN 2077-1312) is an international, peer-reviewed open access journal which provides an advanced forum for studies related to marine science and engineering. It publishes reviews, research papers, and communications. Our aim is to encourage scientists to publish their experimental and theoretical results in as much detail as possible”. 

In the beginning, not many researchers choose to publish their results in that journal for it is new and many of the researchers doubted the quality of open access journals, they think letting the authors pay for the publication fees is dishonored disrespectful to their valued tradition. So the journal started as a quarterly journal and with a small number of publications.

However, things start to change since 2018, when the mainstream journals in my research field – ocean wave energy harvesting starts to control the annual number of papers that can be published in their journal. These journals start to deliberately delay the time for sending the manuscripts out for review and extend the review time to be very long. As a result, a lot of very famous researchers start to advocate for the open-access journal of JMSE and choose to publish their most important results in the journal. JMSE now is very popular for its fast peer-review process and high quality. 

As the JMSE is very proud of its position as a pioneer in the open access movement, I am also glad to see the growth of open access journals for multiple reasons. Firstly, I believe everyone should have an equal opportunity to access knowledge, whereas the traditional business publisher has restricted ordinary people who desire knowledge from getting it easily. Secondly, I think open access is a more reasonable choice for the taxpayers, as most of the research funding actually comes from taxpayers, the traditional journals charge the researchers/taxpayers again if they want to read the results from projects they supported, which absolutely doesn’t make sense to me. At last, as a researcher myself, the high efficiency of the open-access journal is another reason for me to support it.