Writing a Winning Teaching Philosophy

 

Teaching philosophy is one of the required documents by all the universities which seek to hire a new professor. Although there are general guidelines to write it down, it is really important to avoid buzzwords and cliches. To this end, here are 4 practical recommendations adopted from [1]:

  1. Discuss what students learn from your class after a semester. How is it beneficial to them? and the world? It is good to extend this discussion in terms of acquiring new knowledge and skills, separately.
  2. Most likely you will be teaching two types of courses: service courses offered by the department, and those courses related to your research expertise. It is a good idea to distinguish between the two which require different objectives and approaches.
  3. Tell a personal story. Walk the readers through your past teaching experience and show them that enlightening moment in the class, or a particular failure which led you to develop a novel teaching methodology.
  4. Acknowledge the inspiring teaching resources: your former beloved teacher, a great book, etc.

Finally, make sure to address these critical questions in your teaching statement: What do you want students to learn? What methods do you employ to help students achieve these objectives? How do you evaluate student learning? Why do you care about teaching?

Good luck!

References:

1- 4 Steps to a Memorable Teaching Philosophy

2- How to Write a Teaching Statement That Stands Out

 

Developing an Effective Research Statement for Faculty Positions

Research statement is one of the important documents in the process of applying for faculty positions, particularly required by research schools. The purpose of it is to showcase your journey in terms of doing research: the past, present and future of your research, in addition to the potential benefits to the community. Research statement is considered as a complementary documents to CV. The latter includes brief description of achievements, projects and essential information such as the name of your schools. Research statement though involves more details about the questions you have in your mind, why they are significant, and your strategies to address them. A winning research statement clarifies the path your research has taken, and where it will take you in the future, and ultimately convinces the search committee that you are a good fit.

One key point in developing an effective research statement is to introduce yourself as a mature competent scientist who aspires to run his/her own academic business independently. It is a fatal mistake to devise the direction of your research plan as a copy of what your current advisor does. The research committee seeks a creative scientist who has a clear short-term and long-term plans. Therefore, you should provide them with a persuasive, reassuring, realistic image of what their life will be like when you are working in their department.

Finally, do not forget to read the samples and observe the range of different approaches that can be taken credibly. It helps you to find your own style of writing.

Good luck!

References:

1- Research Statement Guide

2- Writing a Research Statement For Your Job Application

 

 

Is it Beneficial to Pursue a Postdoc?

 

While getting a doctorate degree is essential to enter professional academic/research job market, it is obscure whether holding a postdoc degree is required or even preferred. In a study [1], 85 percent of the Ph.D. holders stated that this degree is needed in their current job, whereas only 40 percent of the postdoc holders found it either preferred or required.

To start with, it is important to recall that postdoc is just a transition state and cannot be considered as an ultimate career goal. Second, it is hard to generalize the significance of having a postdoc for all the disciplines, e.g. in physics almost all the Ph.D. students end up getting one or even two postdocs, while in computer science graduate students barely end up doing postdoc. Therefore, I would rather merely discuss the pros and cons and let the audience to conclude.

First off, postdocs are absolutely underpaid! In [2] it is discussed that

”A scientific postdoc with a doctoral degree (to be redundant) with 5 years of experience makes ~$4,000 less than the typical librarian and ~$5,000 less than the typical postal carrier.

Now, why a Ph.D. would rather to remain underpaid after receiving the doctoral degree? Many graduate students, especially who plan to become a tenure-track faculty, choose to go for a postdoctoral research position to become more competitive, i.e. by publishing more peer-reviewed papers, applying for transitional grants and gaining teaching experience. However, it is crucial to know that doing postdoc does not necessarily result in all the mentioned achievements. One should definitely apply to join a reputable university and work with an expert professor; otherwise, he/she may not have productive years and lose the chance to compete with the peers. Finally, it is always a good idea to talk to someone who works in your research field and ask whether doing postdoc is a wise choice or not.

References:

1- To Postdoc or Not?

2- Why A Postdoctoral Researcher Position Pays Less Than A Librarian Salary

Future of the University

In recent years, online enrollments in higher education have been growing although overall enrollments in the United States have continued to decline [1]. Interestingly,

79% of all online students and 76% of alumni think that online education is “better than” or “equal to” on-campus education [2].

Given the ever growing number of online courses and material,  a substantial shift in the focus of teaching in the future universities is inevitable.  While in the past it was acceptable for instructors to repeat a set of slides and tests for several years, nowadays students seek up-to-date and pragmatic education. In the present time, one can easily sing up in an online course thought by a proficient professor in a top-rank college and learn the standard lessons for free. Therefore, what graduate students–  who spend considerable amount of time and money in graduate school instead of making money and gaining experience in either academia or industry– look for is beyond the conventional learning objectives. Accordingly, professors should make the nature of projects, tests and assignments more practical.

To this end, I expect to witness a younger generation of faculties in the future universities as well as the senior professors who are still keen to learn new skills and technologies and convey it to their students. Moreover, traditional classes are likely to be totally replaced by online learning platforms, where faculty and students interact most of the time in cyberspace.

 

References:

[1] Changing Students, faculty, and Institutions in the Twenty-First Century

[2] 2018 Online Education Trends Report

[3] The growth of online learning:  How universities must adjust to the new norm

 

 

 

 

Open Access Journal: Nucleic Acid Research

About the Journal

Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) is an open-access peer-reviewed scientific journal published by Oxford University Press. It publishes the results of leading edge research into physical, chemical, biochemical and biological aspects of nucleic acids and proteins involved in nucleic acid metabolism and/or interactions. It enables the rapid publication of papers under the following categories: Chemistry and synthetic biology; Computational biology; Gene regulation, chromatin and epigenetics; Genome integrity, repair and replication; Genomics; Molecular biology; Nucleic acid enzymes; RNA and Structural biology. The journal publishes two yearly special issues, one dedicated to biological databases, published in January since 1993, and the other on biological web servers, published in July since 2003.  According to the Journal Citation Reports, the journal’s 2016 impact factor is 10.162.

NAR’s Open Access Initiative

The advent of online publication has greatly improved access to scientific content on a global scale. This has led to calls from the academic community for research to be made freely available online immediately upon publication, without the barrier of paid subscription to access. In response to these calls, and following consultation with journal contributors, Oxford University Press and the Editors of Nucleic Acids Research (NAR) launched an Open Access initiative for NAR in 2005. This means that it is no longer necessary to hold a subscription in order to read current NAR content online.

There are substantial costs associated with publishing a high quality journal such as NAR, for example in the administration of the editorial process, production of the published version, and development of online functionality. Under a subscription-based model, these costs are primarily covered by charging libraries and individuals for access to the journal’s content. Under NAR’s Open Access model, we aim to cover the costs of publication primarily through a combination of author charges and institutional payments.

The current open access charges are:

  • Author charge (per article) Member institution – £746 / $1455 / €1119 (50% discount)
  • Non-member institution – £1491 / $2909 / €2337.

Under OUP’s existing Developing Countries Initiative, authors based in Free Access countries will have the open access charged waived, and authors based in Reduced Access countries will be charged 50% of the regular open access fee.

The following figure shows the number of NAR submissions received 2002–7. One can see a non-growing trend after 2005 when NAR became fully open accessed. Undoubtedly, the high price of publishing in this journal can be counted as a leading factor.

On the other hand,  according to the table below, NAR has been receiving higher impact factor and more competitive ranking among peer journals since 2005.  Following figure illustrates that while there has been a drop in the growth rate of NAR impact factor, joining open access movement has not stopped NAR to succeed in general.

Resources:

  1. https://academic.oup.com/nar
  2. Manktelow, Emily. “Oxford journals’ adventures in open access.” Learned Publishing 21.3 (2008): 200-208.
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nucleic_Acids_Research

Social Media Is Scholarship

In this post I summarize a blog entitled “Social Media Is Scholarship” from The Chronicle of Higher Education (Link). The author, Mark Carrigan, is a Digital Sociologist at the University of Cambridge and a digital fellow at The Sociological Review Foundation. The author of Social Media for Academics, he is internationally recognized as a leading expert on the role of social media within higher education.

He starts with an important question: How do you find the time to use social media? While Carrigan acknowledges that social media can potentially be a Black Hole into which time and energy vanishes, there are useful tools to managing online time, such as Freedom, RescueTime, and Be Focused.  The author emphasizes that social media is not extrinsic to scholarship, neither a distinct from legitimate academic work. In fact, many faculty members use these online tools for expanding professional network, exploring publications and nourishing their ideas.

Next, Carrigan provides a case study through which his research blog is compared to his series of notebooks which he used to carry for recording his ideas and sketching out plans:

“Inevitably I forgot them [notebooks] at the most inopportune moments, reducing me to scribbling notes on scraps of paper, only to fail to transcribe them at a later date. In contrast, my research blog is accessible to me wherever I have a mobile phone or computer. The expectation that others might read my notes forces me to work out what I am trying to say, rather than scribbling down in shorthand ideas that might feel meaningful to me at the time but are often confusing later.”

More than accessibility, he addresses the productive conversations that is shaped when he shares those blog post through his social media feeds. Furthermore, through online tools users can easily categorize, tag and highlight their notes which are substantially helpful for future retrieval. On the other hand, the author argues that research blog might not be suitable for those who (1) do not have smartphones, (2) are big fan of writing by hand and (3) are not comfortable wit sharing in-progress projects.

Altogether, I believe social media provides a vast platform for higher education community. Depending on the way we use it, it can  either be a perfect assistant who saves our time, promotes our released works and  connects us to the research community OR it can just be a waste of time! If you want to make sure that you are using these platform efficiently rather than being used by them, it is a good idea to write a list of the scholarly activities you engage per week. Then determine how many of them have you tried using social media to support. Apparently, the more you use social media to support your existing activities, the easier it becomes to be actively engaged with audiences.

Bridging the Gender Gap in STEM

Introduction. The battle to bridge the gender gap in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) has been a hot topic for several years. Although women fill close to half of all jobs in the U.S. economy, they hold less than 25 per- cent of STEM jobs (see Figure1). This has been the case throughout the past decade, even as college- educated women have increased their share of the overall workforce. This issue is worse in computer-related fields and technology, “By 2020, there will be 1.4 million jobs in computing-related fields—but women are on track to fill only 3 percent of them.”

Reasons. Some people such as Stuart Reges, a principal lecturer at the university’s Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, argue that main reason for this gap are the fundamental differences between men and woman and the consequent choice. “Our community must face the difficult truth that we aren’t likely to make further progress in attracting women to computer science. Women can code, but often they don’t want to. We will never reach gender parity.” wrote Reges. “It’s time for everyone to be honest, and my honest view is that having 20 percent women in tech is probably the best we are likely to achieve. Accepting that idea doesn’t mean that women should feel unwelcome. Recognizing that women will be in the minority makes me even more appreciative of the women who choose to join us.”

On the other hand, there are many evidences showing that women are achieving the same level of excellence in science fields as men. For example, last year for the first time women outnumbered men in medical school enrollments, which were men-dominated before. Furthermore, while Reges interprets the national data correctly that women fall behind men in computer science enrollments, his assertion that sexism in the tech industry is not an obstacle for women who are competent to enter the industry is questionable.

Author’s Opinion. I believe that thriving in computer science is regardless of the gender. If you are interested in this field, go for it! Similar to any other purpose in your life, it is hard to reach to the summit of success especially when the route is full of crumbling rocks and you are not fairly treated. However, summit worth fighting for!

As one of the successful role models in Computer Science, Grace Hopper was a United States Navy rear admiral and also a female pioneer of computer programming who invented one of the first compiler related tools. Nowadays, the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing is the world’s largest gathering of women technologists with around 20,000 attendees this year in Houston, TX. Here is a famous quote from her: A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for.

Resources:

 

 

Research Misconduct in Higher Education

I would like to start with defining the three “cardinal sins” of research conduct: falsification, fabrication, and plagiarism  (resource: Link):

  • Falsification is the changing or omission of research results (data) to support claims, hypotheses, other data, etc.
  • Fabrication is the construction and/or addition of data, observations, or characterizations that never occurred in the gathering of data or running of experiments.
  • Plagiarism is using or representing the work of others as your own work, even if committed unintentionally.

Following is the case summary of a research misconduct done by Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (resource: Link).  The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) found that Ms. Maria Cristina Miron Elqutub, Research Interviewer at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), was engaged in research misconduct in research supported by National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR), National Institutes of Health (NIH), grant U01 DE019765-01. ORI found that Respondent engaged in research misconduct by intentionally and knowingly falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in the following two (2) published papers and two (2) grant progress reports submitted to NIDCR and NIH. As the result, Dr. Elqutub agreed to have her research supervised for a period of three (3) years, and exclude herself voluntarily from serving in any advisory capacity to the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS).

Author’s Opinion: While there are quite few number of research misconduct reports on ORI scholarly integrity website, I believe there should be more of them based on the increasing number of publications around the world. Therefore, I did some research on this topic and found a great paper titled “How Many Scientists Fabricate and Falsify Research? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Survey Data” by Daniele Fanelli. The paper argues how difficult it is to measure the frequency with which scientists fabricate and falsify data, or commit other forms of scientific misconduct. With some assumptions on around 20 surveys, a pooled weighted average of 1.97% (N = 7, 95%CI: 0.86–4.45) of scientists admitted to have fabricated, falsified or modified data or results at least once. The good news is that recently some statistical tools have been introduced to detect potential data fabrication automatically (resource: Link). From my point of view, such tools can have a key role to stop research misconduct in the future.

How IMPOSSIBLE is it to become a tenure assistant professor?

Imagine you are a Ph.D. student, passionate about teaching and doing research. Most likely, the dream job for you is becoming an assistant professor in a research university. However, you may want to take a closer look at this process and then judge whether or not it is what you really dream about.

Recently, I read three related articles on The Chronicle Higher Education: “How Hard Is It to Get Tenure?”, “What Is the Going Rate for Tenure Nowadays?”  and “So You Think You Want a Tenure-Track Job?”. It was indicated how tricky it is to prepare the application material and modify it based on the institution and filed, with a focus on your arc of productivity forward toward tenure. Applicants must be clear on the contractual percentage of research, teaching and service that will be expected to meet for tenure. Note that getting tenure might be more challenging for minorities, such as women or people of color. Best case scenario, your quest for tenure if finally approved and you will be hired as a tenure-track. But is it the end of story? Absolutely not!

Junior faculty members receive a start-up funding to set up labs and hire graduate students. They are supposed to bring in at least one substantial grant from a federal agency, such as the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health, in order to get tenure. Given the increasing number of applications for a decreasing pool of federal research dollars, it is highly competitive to get funding, i.e. the odds of getting a typical federal grant  in a major like population and community ecology is 5%. As such, many competitive research projects and proposal are rejected every year, resulting in many new assistant professors who are not awarded tenure-track while they have amazing publications.

Meanwhile the tenure-track period, junior faculties are implicitly forced to write proposal which have better chances to be funded. This might be interpreted as the loss of writing freedom in many cases. Moreover, it is undeniable that the salary is significantly lower than industry and national labs. Altogether, here is the big question that one should ask in the beginning of this journey full of ups and downs:  is becoming a tenure assistant professor worth spending this time and energy?

Mission Statements

I am a fourth-year Ph.D. student at Virginia Tech, and had the opportunity to spend Summer 2018 at Stanford University doing internship. It was interesting for me to compare these two universities in terms of Mission Statement.

 

Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)

Location: Blacksburg, VA, USA

Type: Public College

Mission Statement: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.

 

Stanford University

Location: Stanford, CA, USA

Type: Private Research University

Mission Statement: To support and advance the teaching, learning and research activities of the University through promotion of a safe and healthy campus environment by providing and coordinating programs and services that minimize safety, health, and environmental and regulatory risks to the Stanford University community in a manner consistent with responsible fiscal and environmental stewardship.

 

Author’s Opinion: What stands out to me in the mission statement of Virginia Tech (VT) is the emphasis on the improvement of an individual as well as the whole community. In a strong connection with the motto of VT, That I May Serve, the mission statement of this university illustrates the importance of community service with focus on teaching, learning and research. The mission statement of Stanford University (SU) is more centralized over the  growth of this university. It gives a detailed list of practical priorities which matter the most for SU community, again with focus on teaching, learning and research activities.

The major difference between the two mission statements might stem from the fact that Virginia Tech is a public school while Stanford University is a private research university. From my point of view, this affects the attitude of their administration to invest more on the development of the commonwealth or the university community.