Assigned Post 5 – Future of the University

Are important cornerstones of modern society. They serve the public through service and educate the next generation of scientists, teachers, scholars, and citizens. It is not something that is going away anytime soon. While the modern university is a great thing, there is always room for improvement. I think that the cost of education needs to be reduced. Private colleges and universities, and even public universities, have become prohibitively expensive. Education should be available to everyone, not just those with the resources to buy it. There are many potential ways to address this, and none of them are perfect. As a society, we need to decide how to proceed with this. Increasing funding for education overall could make education accessible to more people. I also think that there are many opportunities to integrate technology and social media in the classroom. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, many people are afraid of how pervasive technology is in modern society. We have never had so many tools to educate the public as we do today, and it would be shame not to use it out of distrust. Another area for improvement is to reduce the emphasis on standardized testing. I don’t think that students benefit very much from multiple choice testing and other similar methods that emphasize rote learning over critical thinking. I am hopeful that we will more towards a more experiential type of model. Some of my most memorable and beneficial experiences as an undergraduate and graduate student have been from independent research projects and papers. This is something that I think should be available to all students, not just those who are lucky enough to go to a small school for their undergrad or to graduate school. Part of the emphasis on standardized testing comes from the way instructors are evaluated, so this would need to change first. I think the future of the university looks bright, as long as we remain open minded about ways to improve what we have!

How do we end up in graduate school?

Most of the jobs I knew of (doctor, veterinarian, teacher, etc) I knew required college at least, but I didn’t really understand how much was entailed until later. When I was growing up, I knew that I liked insects, but didn’t think you could make a career of it. I didn’t think I would ever train to be “Dr. Quinn: Bug Doctor.” I wasn’t even aware of what graduate study really was. So how do we end up here? There are so many smaller choices and random acts of chance that lead us to grad school. For me, it was a number of factors. A strong interest in the natural world and an independent streak definitely went a long way, along with tenacity to get me through moments of self-doubt. Thinking back however, I think it was really the mentors that I had during my undergraduate study that led me to where I am today. They were the ones that put time and effort into helping me to develop as a scientist. They did not have to give me research opportunities, a shoulder to cry on, or second chances when I messed up, but they did. I think this is the greatest gift that instructors and advisors of undergraduates can give. With their support, I stumbled my way into something that I loved, and held on tight. I’ve been working as hard as I can at it ever since. On those days where everything seems to be going wrong in my research, I turn back to these important people and remember how much they have believed in me. Studies have shown that advisor involvement can have an overwhelming positive impact on undergraduate outcomes.  I think there are many factors that could lead someone to graduate school. For me though, it is the actualization of a dream that others helped me to find.

Processing the Election

I am still in disbelief, to put it lightly. I’ve given myself some time to think through the election results, and I still am shocked. The ramifications of this election on our country and the world will likely be felt for generations to come. I worry for my friends and family, and anyone who isn’t a wealthy, cisgender, white, christian male (so most people).  Hillary was by no means perfect, but at the end of the day at least she was inclusive, respectful, and had decades of experience serving America. What will happen to climate change remediation when Trump puts a climate change denier in charge of the EPA? What about science funding in general? There is so much uncertainty and anxiety to be had, and it is truly exhausting. I feel now more than ever that it is my duty to get out there and work hard to educate others in science and everything else. I’ve noticed a definite anti-intellectual streak in the recent years, though I suppose it’s always been there. I think that much of this election was decided by “fake” news and soundbites that were shared on social media. While I believe that the internet should be a free and open place, I think that it is irresponsible for social media sites to allow blatantly untrue information to be disseminated through their services. As a feminist, I am also troubled to see that the most qualified person to ever run for president who happened to be a woman still wasn’t as qualified as the least qualified candidate ever who happened to be a man. Misogyny and anti-intellectualism are insidious components of life in the US that no one seems to be able to address. As I mentioned in class however, I think that many of us in academia live in privileged, liberal bubbles. The election results were surprising to me and many others because we didn’t know anyone who was planning on voting for him. People in the so-called “rust-belt” and rural areas have been hurting economically for years, and I think their frustrations have finally come to a head, leading to the election of someone who isn’t a traditional politician. I am still processing the results of this election and am trying to remain hopeful. I will just become a more outspoken feminist and scientist in the meantime. 

Cultural Expectations

We recently finished a series of classes where we discussed the differences in higher education in different countries across the globe. I was amazed at the variety of education structures and models that are available depending upon where you are. While I am overall satisfied with the system we have here, it makes you wonder what it might have been like to go to school in Germany or China, where the rules and expectations are so different.

The conversation made me think about cultural expectations overall. While I’m not from somewhere as far away  as the students who presented in class, I have experienced cultural differences as I have traveled and studied throughout the US, though they are more subtle. I grew up in suburban Massachusetts, which is much different than growing up in rural Georgia or urban Los Angeles. While we all experienced the same basic educational system, I sometimes wonder how more subtle cultural cues might affect education. In the town I grew up in, education was highly valued and it was expected that I would pursue typical “white collar” jobs in the technology or health sectors. It was the default path for most people I knew. As we grew up however, we all eventually found our own paths, though for many it was in fact one of the ones I mentioned. In other parts of the country, young people might be expected to return after higher education, should they pursue it, to take care of the family farm or business, or care for older relatives. This is not necessarily a bad choice, just as my decision to travel around the country studying whatever I find interesting is neither a good nor bad choice. It’s about doing whatever you find fulfilling, which is different for each person.

Assigned Post 3: Tech & Innovation in Higher Ed

The use of technology in the classroom is a controversial topic. Technology permeates nearly every aspect of modern society, with everything from smartphones to refridgerators in what has become known as “the internet of things.” The integration of technology into our lives presents unique challenges to professors and instructors. Older instructors often seem distrustful of new technologies as they emerge, when really they can be among the most useful tools available. While of course, students should not use their phones for texting or to stream football games in class (two actual things I’ve actually had to speak to students about when I was teaching), there can be great utility in using these modern tools in the classroom. As this article points out, there are so many ways that technology can enrich the experience of students and academics at large. It can be especially useful for sharing talks and information with those who cannot be physically present for a talk (tools such as Facebook Live are great for this). Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and the myriad of other social media tools available can provide live updates on exciting breakthoughs, interesting talks, or even just cool demonstrations, all of which can be widely shared at minimal cost. People that may have otherwise not been exposed to a lecture or research can be drawn in, learning something new while increasing the reach of your work. This is especially important in a world that is increasingly filled with easily accessible misinformation. More and more people list social media as their primary source of news and information, which can be troubling based on some of the “information” that gets shared. Getting correct info out there has never been more important! As long as the technology be used is not disruptive, I do not see the harm in using it to educate as many people as possible.


Assigned Post 4 – Open Access

Open access has been an increasingly discussed topic. Traditional journals require subscriptions to the journal or download fees for the individual articles. This can be prohibitively expensive for those not associated with an institution of higher learning with a subscription or sufficient funding of their own. Ultimately this can decrease the impact and readership of research, regardless of its importance or quality. The data from the research project are also often not required to be made available in any way. Open access journals circumvent this by being freely available online. The articles published within the journal are still peer-reviewed, but there is no direct cost to the reader. These journals often require authors to add their data to a data base or include them as supplemental sections of the paper. Increased transparency and availability of research enhances science overall by increasing accessibility and decreasing duplication of effort.

In entomology, there are several open access journals to choose from. One of these is the Journal of Insect Science (JIS). It is a journal associated with our national society, the Entomological Society of America. According to the journal, it is”[…] is an international, open-access, peer-reviewed journal that publishes papers on all aspects of the biology of insects and other arthropods – from the molecular to the ecological – as well as their agricultural and medical impacts.” The scope of this journal is very broad, meaning that many types of research, including those that may not fall into traditional categories, can be published by the JIS. One of the touted benefits of this journal is that it is one of the fastest to review articles. Whether or not this is due directly to it being open access I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised given that there might be less bureaucracy involved. Either way, I am pleased to see that there are such options for publishing available.