Open Access Journals in Environmental Engineering

In all honesty, when I first set out looking for open access journals in Environmental Engineering I expected it to be fairly straight forward. What I ended up finding was very far from that. Most of the top journals that I am used to dealing with (Nature, Environmental Science and Technology, Water Research) were not open access – though they do have some open access articles. I ran across a couple journals that claimed to be open access, but were largely considered predatory – OMICS Publishing Group among – which opens up an entirely different can of worms. As I sifted through a number of open access journals unrelated to my discipline and others from smaller countries without large investments in research, I came to realize there does not seem to be many (if any?) high profile, accepted, open access journal in my particular field. I inevitably selected an interactive open-access journal named ‘Drinking Water Engineering and Science’ (DWES, https://www.drinking-water-engineering-and-science.net/about/aims_and_scope.html), however, the lack of highly reputable journals that are open access, in my opinion, is worrisome.

DWES is a “peer-reviewed open-access journal for the publication of original research in drinking water treatment and supply” and is primarily focused on “applied research in water sources, substances, drinking water treatment processes, distribution systems, and residual management” which aligns nicely with my personal interest in drinking water and wastewater treatment. Based out of Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, DWES is associated with Copernicus publications and primarily serves researchers from universities and research institutes as well as scientists and engineers working in industry.

Open access does feature prominently on DWES website and is explicitly identified multiple times, in multiple sections.  DWES doesn’t state where exactly they fall within the greater ‘open access movement’, but they do advertise their free immediate access to original publications. Interestingly enough, DWES also has a section where they discuss the ethics of their publications, citing that ethical standards are critical to high quality scientific publications. Copernicus Publications, DWES’ associate, have guidelines to help ensure ethical publishing while DWES itself is a member of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE). DWES states that their selection of publications will be based solely on the quality of a studies scientific merit and not on the race, gender, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, etc. of the authors.

Overall, I find open access journals to be a good idea and am hopeful that they become more prevalent in my field; however, I find the one potential hang-up to be related to the economics of what open access requires. In the current framework most journals operating expenses (editing, publishing, etc.) are paid for by the users (readers/subscribers). Open access removes this cost burden from the user, but that does not remove the cost in its entirely. Journals still need to pay for the services they provide and, outside of government subsidies, these costs are often incurred by the authors. In my opinion, the pay wall that was limiting dissemination of information to the user is now only going to be felt by the primary investigators conducting the research in the first place – which I do not know if it is a better or worse model. Additionally, open access potentially opens the door for predatory open access journals which levy high fees on authors for publication, while not provide the same level of editing and credibility seen in the current system. As I have said before, I very much like the concept of open access, but I feel there are some very important hurdles that must be crossed before it can be completely adopted and replace the current model.

A look at California’s Virtual College Initiative: Blog 4

As technology continues to change so will higher education’s implementation of it. I view technology as a tool and believe that through its utilization can either provide or remove value to the education system. I am anticipating there will be plenty of blogs written about how the use of technology in the classroom or by students is disruptive to an educational environment and I do agree that improper use of technology can cause issues; however, I wanted to focus on some of the potential benefits that technology can provide.

One particular gap in the traditional system that I feel is especially impacted by technology is the ability to provide educational opportunities to non-traditional students; whether they be minorities, working adults, parents, or individuals negatively impacted by the way the global economy has shifted in recent decades. I found an article by Karin Fischer entitled “Can a Huge Online College Solve California’s Work-Force Problems?” particularly interesting (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-a-Huge-Online-College/244054).

Fischer’s piece highlights that California is trying to create a system that targets populations that are often left behind; these communities include “under- or unemployed adults who need new skills to land a job, secure a raise, nab a promotion, just to maintain a toehold in a swiftly changing workplace.” Fisher goes on to identify that there are roughly 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 without a post-secondary degree that could significantly benefit from having access to a virtual college. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, believes that the only way to allow the worlds firth largest economy to continue to grow is to bridge these educational gaps for working age Californians and views online college as an integral pillar to achieving this goal.

Online colleges largely provide accessibility to individuals that struggle to matriculate into ‘conventional’ institutions of higher education, and California is actively working toward creating one that can pull from over 7,000 courses taught in the greater UC system. Admittedly, online courses are not without their flaws as students typically do better in face to face systems. There is also a fear that virtual classes will take students from the conventional system causing unforeseen impacts to higher education as a whole.

Interestingly enough, the proposed online college hopes to combat competition with degree based institutions by developing courses and programs that only provide certifications for skills enhancement and/or job advancement, not degrees. In this same vein, their program is working directly with labor unions and employers to tailor their online programs to ensure students increase their potential for career advancement. Personally, I feel that trade schools and skills development is an important aspect of higher education that is often forgotten about and online education seems like it can assist in the required specialization of our national workforce by providing accessibility to additional trainings and certifications.

When I first started thinking about online colleges/courses I thought about it through the context of my own experience in Engineering and a four-year University. I failed to consider using online college for skills enhancement, and certification in the work place and feel that it could be very powerful. I imagine there are limitations, as certain specializations likely require hands on evaluations, but maybe this can/will become less of a barrier with advancements in VR (virtual reality) technologies.

A look at California’s Virtual College Initiative: Blog 4

As technology continues to change so will higher education’s implementation of it. I view technology as a tool and believe that through its utilization can either provide or remove value to the education system. I am anticipating there will be plenty of blogs written about how the use of technology in the classroom or by students is disruptive to an educational environment and I do agree that improper use of technology can cause issues; however, I wanted to focus on some of the potential benefits that technology can provide.

One particular gap in the traditional system that I feel is especially impacted by technology is the ability to provide educational opportunities to non-traditional students; whether they be minorities, working adults, parents, or individuals negatively impacted by the way the global economy has shifted in recent decades. I found an article by Karin Fischer entitled “Can a Huge Online College Solve California’s Work-Force Problems?” particularly interesting (https://www.chronicle.com/article/Can-a-Huge-Online-College/244054).

Fischer’s piece highlights that California is trying to create a system that targets populations that are often left behind; these communities include “under- or unemployed adults who need new skills to land a job, secure a raise, nab a promotion, just to maintain a toehold in a swiftly changing workplace.” Fisher goes on to identify that there are roughly 2.5 million Californians between the ages of 25-34 without a post-secondary degree that could significantly benefit from having access to a virtual college. California’s governor, Jerry Brown, believes that the only way to allow the worlds firth largest economy to continue to grow is to bridge these educational gaps for working age Californians and views online college as an integral pillar to achieving this goal.

Online colleges largely provide accessibility to individuals that struggle to matriculate into ‘conventional’ institutions of higher education, and California is actively working toward creating one that can pull from over 7,000 courses taught in the greater UC system. Admittedly, online courses are not without their flaws as students typically do better in face to face systems. There is also a fear that virtual classes will take students from the conventional system causing unforeseen impacts to higher education as a whole.

Interestingly enough, the proposed online college hopes to combat competition with degree based institutions by developing courses and programs that only provide certifications for skills enhancement and/or job advancement, not degrees. In this same vein, their program is working directly with labor unions and employers to tailor their online programs to ensure students increase their potential for career advancement. Personally, I feel that trade schools and skills development is an important aspect of higher education that is often forgotten about and online education seems like it can assist in the required specialization of our national workforce by providing accessibility to additional trainings and certifications.

When I first started thinking about online colleges/courses I thought about it through the context of my own experience in Engineering and a four-year University. I failed to consider using online college for skills enhancement, and certification in the work place and feel that it could be very powerful. I imagine there are limitations, as certain specializations likely require hands on evaluations, but maybe this can/will become less of a barrier with advancements in VR (virtual reality) technologies.

The Deterrent to Scientific Misconduct: Harsh enough?

Having been immersed in scientific research for the better part of the last 6 years, I find few transgressions more egregious than the falsification of data. Scientific research, in my eyes, is fundamentally built on the foundations of honestly, transparency, and the ethical reporting of results/conclusions, regardless of hypothesis or potential backlash. Scientists enter a social contact to ethically report their finds unaltered; anything short of this not only disseminates inaccurate conclusions, but can begin to erode the public’s trust in the scientific process.

Regardless, scientific misconduct does occur and will continue to occur. External and internal pressures are numerous and can push scientist to take shortcuts that lead to the cases we read about for class. Personally, I read the case summaries on Dr. El-Remessy, Azza, and Endo Matthew. Both of these cases revolved around the perpetrator falsifying a research study. One of the cases of falsification was completed by a post-doctoral researcher while the other was completed by a graduate student, showing that this temptation is not reserved for professors or students, alone.

Since, in my opinion, the pressures that lead to academic misconduct will continue to exist (without major systematic changes), I thought it is more interesting to look at the punishment (or deterrent for future acts) each case resulted in. Both investigations levied a 3-year sentence with various requirements. Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy work over this period of time requires explicit supervision and an institutional letter endorsing the validity of all disseminated work. Furthermore, both cases resulted in the inability for either individual to voluntarily serve in any advisory capacity to PHS. Essentially, both Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy received an almost identical punisment for their transgressions, making it seem like this is the go to response for a first time offender (neither article makes mention of repeat offenses).

The question then becomes is the above enough of a deterrent to stave off scientific misconduct? Sadly, I feel like the answer to this is most related to the underlying consequences that the case studies fail to contextualize.

At face value the sentencing above, in my opinion, does not sound ‘too’ bad. Both Mr. Endo and Dr. El-Remessy can continue their work with the added caveat of institutional endorsement and after 3 years it seems there are no ‘lingering’ consequences. However, how hard is getting an institutional endorsement? Is it essentially a black mark on your record that prevents any institution from hiring your, essentially making the punishment a death sentence in that field? Interestingly enough, both a post-doctoral researcher and graduate student received a very similar punishment. Will the ramifications be felt as equally? Or is it this something a professor can recover from, but a student cant? The Endo case also makes no note of potential ramifications for their primarily advisors. What level of accountability should an advisor have for a student who falsifies data? I think these are the questions that need to be considered before we can really assess whether or not the punishment is harsh enough, Then again, can you have a punishment harsh enough for one of the worse actions a scientists can conduct?

A Statement of Intent: Valuable or Eloquent Lip Service

Image result for mission statement

As a 3rd year Ph.D. student, I (and many of you reading this) have spent the better part of the last decade learning, working, and submerging myself in academia. In the future, both immediate and distant, academia will continue to play a major role in my personal and professional development. However, even though I have spent countless hours being a part of multiple Universities while trying to figure out what version of ‘me’ I wanted to become, I never really stopped and considered that my institution of higher learning may be doing the same thing (or have in the past).

To be honest, until enrolling in GRAD 5104 I may have only cursorily thought about an institution of higher learning’s goals, if at all. When I was looking at schools for Undergraduate, or again for Graduate school I primarily thought about what the University could give me; specifically, through the quality of programs, professors, research, and the opportunities that the later would provide me in my academic pursuits.

As I stop to think about what a University wants, or is looking to accomplish, admittedly I know little outside the obvious. From conversations with previous mentors and whatever thoughts I have on my own I can identify a few major concepts that I expect institutions of higher education to focus on: 1) to provide a high level and quality of education to its attendees, and 2) to meet the needs of its regional constituents.

I expected both of the two institutions of higher education I selected to identify, at the very least, the above criteria in each of their mission statements. I eventually selected Mississippi State University, where I graduated with my Bachelors, and Hagerstown Community College, a local community college close to where I grew up, for this exercise.

Both of their mission statements can be found below, and are surprisingly similar.  I didn’t know what I initially expected, but I figured a local community college and a large state university on par with Virginia Tech would have markedly different goals and aspirations. Regardless, both identify themselves as public institutions primarily focused on educating their respective regions.  MSU specifically highlights the greater Mississippi region while HCC adheres more closely to Washington County Maryland, both of which are primarily rural communities. Each mission statement recognizes themselves as being driving factors in their specific region’s economic and cultural development while identifying the need to give back to their communities through service, and leadership. Interestingly enough, both institution have included diversity/inclusion clauses which, in my opinion, likely relates to both institutions goal of reaching underrepresented demographics in higher education and their localities. In this sense, both MSU and HCC seem to have very similar mission statements rooted in advancing their respective regions intellectually, economically, and culturally.

Diving deeper there remains subtle differences within each mission statement that I expected when considering the scope of impact from a local community college and state land-grant University. MSU makes marked mention of research as a primary directive while HCC addresses development for profession/personal skills enhancement, enrichment of high education valuation, and preparation for university transfer.

I also appreciated MSU’s acknowledgment of its historical excellence in agriculture and stem related studies while it implied its developing excellence in liberal arts and other humanitarian related programs as room for improvement moving forward.

More generally, I think that both MSU and HCC’s mission statements are what any institution of higher education should be. They identify what they are attempting to provide, and who they are attempting to impact. Both go further and identify their importance to regional development, a role I imagine they do not take lightly. In this sense I think both are great, they say what (in my opinion) needs to be said and does so eloquently.

My only reservation is what value does a mission statement truly offer, especially if the words are mute? I attended MSU for four years, and can honestly say I feel that they are meeting their goals, from my experiences anyway, but what if they weren’t? How impactful is a mission statement and at what point does it become  lip service? I would be especially interested if anyone has (or knows of someone) who feels that a particular mission statement didn’t encompass what a institution was actively working toward.

 

Mississippi State University – Mission Statement http://www.president.msstate.edu/mission.php

Mississippi State University is a public, land-grant university whose mission is to provide access and opportunity to students from all sectors of the state’s diverse population, as well as from other states and countries, and to offer excellent programs of teaching, research, and service.

Enhancing its historic strengths in agriculture, natural resources, engineering, mathematics, and natural and physical sciences, Mississippi State offers a comprehensive range of undergraduate and graduate programs; these include architecture, the fine arts, business, education, the humanities, the social and behavioral sciences, and veterinary medicine.

The university embraces its role as a major contributor to the economic development of the state through targeted research and the transfer of ideas and technology to the public, supported by faculty and staff relationships with industry, community organizations, and government entities.

Building on its land-grant tradition, Mississippi State strategically extends its resources and expertise throughout the entire state for the benefit of Mississippi’s citizens, offering access for working and place-bound adult learners through its Meridian Campus, Extension, and distance learning programs.

Mississippi State is committed to its tradition of instilling among its students and alumni ideals of diversity, citizenship, leadership, and service.

 

Hagerstown Community College – Mission Statement http://www.hagerstowncc.edu/about-hcc/president/mission-and-vision

HCC is a state and county supported comprehensive community college. Its central purpose is to offer a diverse array of courses and programs designed to address the curricular functions of university transfer, career entry or advancement, adult basic skills enhancement, general and continuing education, as well as student and community service. It is part of the College’s mission to promote and deliver educational excellence within a learning community environment and to foster regional economic and cultural development through community service and collaboration. The College is charged to provide high quality education at a reasonable cost to meet the post-secondary educational needs of the citizens of Washington County and the surrounding region. The College believes in and teaches the ideals and values of cultural diversity and a democratic way of life and also seeks to cultivate in its students critical and independent thought, openness to new ideas, a sense of self-direction, moral sensitivity, and the value of continuing education.

 

Picture reference: https://www.google.com/search?rlz=1C1CHBF_enUS760US760&biw=1396&bih=662&tbm=isch&sa=1&ei=dByDW6XTHY7p_Qa7lZuQDQ&q=mission+statement+&oq=mission+statement+&gs_l=img.3…4656.4656.0.4870.1.1.0.0.0.0.0.0..0.0….0…1c.1.64.img..1.0.0….0.D_P4QQ4XYKE#imgrc=XD4PIJ2Pr8FgUM:

Signing Off: Cheers to a Good Semester

As our semester rolls to an end I have to say I am glad I took this course even though it hasn’t necessarily altered my life view. I, honestly, do not feel much different as I reflect on the last few months. I was already aware that a lot of people are primarily motivated by their own well-being and that this motivation will allow them to justify doing what they deem necessary (whether it be cutting corners, lying, cheating, or stealing) to increase their own stake in life. I also was aware that engineering, academia, or science more generally would not preclude these people from their ranks. What I have learned from this class is that I (and you) should often take a look at myself, my goals, and my actions to stay as ethically grounded as possible. The active use of introspection can prevent the gradual degradation of personal ethical codes and seems vital to avoiding the slippery slopes that tripped up so many of our case studies.

I have also enjoyed trying out blogging. This has been my first foray into this method of perspective sharing, and may not be my last. I struggle with going out of my way to share my opinions with strangers and acquaintances alike, but I am distressed by the amount of misinformation and hate that seems to circulate my social media feeds. Maybe the concepts of whistleblowing, and ethical fair play that we commonly touch on in class also apply here? Certainly something to consider.

I wish everyone the best as our semester comes to a close, and wish you all a happiest holiday imaginable.

Signing off,

Matt

Us vs Them: A Masked Society

When reading our class assignments for this week I found myself especially interested in The Mask, by Kimlyn Bender. I found its overarching idea, that by putting on a mask we can more readily circumvent our own ethical standards, resonated with me. I think in today’s day and age our closets are filled with masks and we often display them when we go online. I admit I am not the biggest fan of social media; through it I routinely see fighting, bickering, and shortsightedness that represents the worst society has to offer.

I think one of the largest problems with social media is that it provides an audience and a stage with which we emphasize the masks we commonly associate with (whether they be political, religious, etc). The disconnection that online comments and forums provide allow the loyalty that we have for our masks to often overpower our civility. In the modern social media age, I feel like we too commonly see ourselves only as the masks we wear, and any discourse quickly devolves into a us vs them mentality. I feel that people like their masks, and they want others to only wear the masks they wear while asserting that everyone else is wrong. This mentality is especially dangerous, and it is exasperated by the ability for people to surround themselves with exclusively likeminded individuals – allowing for reinforced misconceptions and misinformation to run rampant. The us vs them mentality leaves little room for conversation, or compromise and, in my opinion, is creating massive holes in our social fabric.

If “we cannot expect ethical behavior from a society which is motivated purely by incentives and expediency; ethical conduct is not always profitable or practical” what can we do to ethically counteract the ‘me first’ and consumeristic society that is taking hold in the modern age?

A Financial Attack on Graduate Education

For this week’s blog I wanted to bring light to [what I consider] an important and distressing issue regarding the proposed GOP tax bill. For those of you who are unaware, the proposed GOP tax bill removes a few tax provisions that were geared to limiting education related taxes. One key provision allowed nontaxable tuition waivers/credits to be given to both undergraduate and graduate students. For graduate students especially, this provision is a significant tax break and in its absent students will be on the hook for substantially more taxes.

Here are some links to various news report (there are plenty to find from a number of outlets)

http://cgsnet.org/ckfinder/userfiles/files/CGS_Tax_Reform_Scenarios(1).pdf

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2017/11/7/16612288/gop-tax-bill-graduate-students

https://www.wsj.com/articles/house-gop-plan-would-affect-tax-breaks-for-higher-education-1509654398

The council of graduate schools (first link) provided some examples about what taxing tuition waivers will mean for graduate students, seen below.

As a current graduate student I find this distressing for a number of reasons. Obviously, the stipends we receive are generally skirting the edge of a living wage anyway, add in additional taxes on money we (as students) never see and you are quickly approaching a situation where it is financially unsustainable to attend graduate school. Personally, I feel that the pros and cons to life as a graduate student are already razor thin, and that the sacrifices students already make are commonly taken for granted. At what point does graduate school no longer become an option for the majority of the small minority willing to do it under the current system (especially in STEM fields were jobs [and financial stability] are bountiful on the other side)?

Do not get me wrong, I enjoy being a graduate student and wholeheartedly see the benefits that my research (and others like it) bring to the world, but in a system were applicants are already limited can it sustain an even more pervasive financial barrier to entry? I think not. As a son of a single mother who regularly worries about the financially stability of my own and family’s life, not being able to afford attending graduate school is a serious concern.

How many qualified individuals will this bill (if passed) prevent from contributing to meaningful research and education? What are the overarching impacts on brain drain and creating an education system that no longer welcomes the highest level of academic excellence? Are the benefits of (what I imagine are minuscule) the increased tax revenue worth the potential loss of highly educated workers?

I do not have tangible answers, but I anticipate them to be negative with far reaching implications. There may be benefits of some educational tax changes, but I personally do not feel like aggressively removing tax breaks for graduate students is one.

Based on a True(ish?) Story?

I recently attended a watch party for the Flint Lifetime movie with some of my friends that I work with, and it got me thinking. I am going abstain from giving my opinions about the movie itself, but it brought me to think about the larger idea of how Hollywood and other media outlets typically base their productions ‘on a true story’.

What does that even mean? Based on a true story?

I think originally it was supposed to mean that the movie or show, or novel was rooted in the factual account of a particular happening. Today, I think most people just ignore it, or laugh it off, and it almost implies a level of make believe.

I admit, some movies are actually based on true accounts, and do their diligence to (as accurately as possible) portray the story as truthfully as possible, but at what point does the finished product no longer deserve to bear the title? I feel that there should be a level of accuracy that must be met to be based on a true story, as it should imply a level of authenticity. However, I find the liberties that producers typical take blurs the line between fact and fiction and makes it difficult to know what is true and what isn’t.

I do not think the blame fully lies on the producer, as distinguishing between fact, fiction, and hyperbole is likely extremely difficult, especially with firsthand accounts. Take for instance a subjective story where two major characters have conflicting views about what happened, who did what, and the impacts they created. How do you incorporate their conflicting views into a show? How do you know what account is the ‘accurate’ account? I am not sure it is easy (or even possible) to do.

For me, this world is scary. The gray areas allow misinformation to disguise itself as fact. I enjoyed math as a kid because there was always a ‘right answer’ and at the most a couple ways to get there. When things become subjective they get messy, and I think there are few things messier than ethics.

A real world Hunger Games

This weekend I was on a hike with some friends/lab mates when we, for some reason, started talking about The Hunger Games. This caused me to remember an extremely surprising (and disturbing) news article about how a company was planning on creating a reality TV show similar to The Hunger Games. Known as Game2: Winter, the online show was quoted as being unrestrictive to contestant conduct. Their posted rules stated that “fights, alcohol, murder, rape, smoking [etc]” would be allowed. The all-volunteer cast would try to survive by any means necessary in Siberia, on a bear infested island, for around 9 months.

BBC article about the game show here (more elsewhere): http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsbeat/article/38342421/russia-does-the-hunger-games-for-real-in-siberia-but-no-guns-are-allowed

It turns out the show was a publicity stunt for organizer Yevgeny Pyatkovsky, with some speculation that the Russian Federation shut the show down. Regardless, the show and its premise will not come to fruition, but what if it had? (it garnered a lot of publicity and volunteers to participate)

In an ethical context, I think the egregious violations proposed by the show (rape, murder, etc) are undeniably unethical if they were to happen in everyday life.

My question is, can someone willingly void their own ethical rights?

Assuming the premise of the shows was continued, would the contestant’s willingness to join a show under the pretenses consistent with the show’s rules void their own ethical protections? Or, should a show like this ever be allowed, assuming all participants were willing?

Personally, I do not think a company, or person should be able to make financial gain through the sale of this type of content. However, I do admit that there are plenty of instances where people’s misery has become monetized, and in many of these cases the victims are not volunteers (just because it happens doesn’t make it right). I am not sure how I feel about a person’s ability to subject themselves to these potential conflicts with other willing participants. Should people be allowed to hurt each other if they all agree that those actions are okay? Is war much different?

I am honestly not too sure, but I found the story to be too far out there to not share, and I am curious if a show like this will ever come around in my lifetime…