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.

Science Outreach

Science outreach is a topic that I am personally interested in but that I also think is an essential component of being a scientist. Outreach addresses all of the aspects of the land grant mission (teaching, research, and service). What good is our research if it is not communicated effectively with the people that the land grant is supposed to serve? It can be very challenging for a variety of reasons. It can be time and labor intensive, drawing us away from our other responsibilities. However, I often find that my passion for my work is renewed by participating in outreach even. I say this even as a self-proclaimed introvert. Seeing the tangible impact I can have on others by talking about a subject that I care about and affects their own lives is deeply fulfilling. Another challenge to outreach is cost. Putting together workshops, with all of the time and materials required, is not cheap. Luckily, this can be written into grants and covered that way. Funding availability overall has decreased in recent years, but there still seems to be strong support for outreach activities through the USDA and NGOs. Another challenge is the communication itself. We are used to discussing our work with other scientists who are familiar with the topic and all of its jargon, but what about the public? Communicating the key points of our work without “dumbing it down” or oversimplifying it can be tough. When I finished my master’s degree, I felt like I was finally at a point where I could explain just about any aspect of my work to anyone without losing them. Now that I’m a brand new PhD student, I find myself where I was when I started my MS: stuggling to describe what I’m doing to others while still coming to grips with it myself. This can be especially tricky if you’re more of a “visual person,” like I am. I’m not a very good artist, but when asked what I’m doing I feel compelled to try to draw it out. Instead I just describe it more vaguely than I might like. Ideally, I have some photos with me that I can share, which makes it a lot easier. I’ve improved a lot over time, but it’s still a struggle! As Dr. May Berenbaum points out in her recent Science editorial (found here):

“The public has long been generally unfamiliar and even unenamored with most insects. Notwithstanding, few entomologists communicate with the public about their work. This relationship is a major problem for two reasons. Finding new solutions to evolving insect-related challenges requires basic research, but fundamental insect science often appears arcane and irrelevant to the general public and policy-makers. Also, when basic knowledge produces new technology, that novelty can generate widespread public concern and even entrenched opposition to implementation […] The world’s entomologists need to talk among themselves about how best to talk about insect science with the rest of the world.” (Berenbaum 2016)

It’s important for all of us to get out of our labs and field plots from time to time and interact with the public! This is especially true in a time where there is more fear and misinformation about insects and science in general out there than ever, especially online. Social media is an indiscriminant disseminator of information, however true or false. While we can use these same tools to try to get the right information out there, person to person contacts are often more effective at making a long-term impact. Entomologists and other scientists work to improve quality of life for all, but sometimes the work we do seems strange, and therefore scary. Dr. Berenbaum outlines the following example:

“One example, the sterile insect technique, is as mystifying to most people today as it was 80 years ago. In 1935, charged with controlling the screwworm fly, a devastating pest of livestock, entomologists Edward Knipling and Raymond Bushland commenced decades-long studies of its sexual behavior and population biology. Skepticism abounded when, in 1953, merging their findings with Hermann Muller’s Nobel Prize-winning discovery that irradiation sterilizes male fruit flies, they released thousands of irradiated male screwworm flies on Curaçao, where livestock losses to the pest were unmanageable. In just 7 months, the breeding cycle was fatally disrupted, and screwworms were eradicated from the island with no adverse consequences. By 1966, the sterile insect technique had eradicated screwworms from the United States, saving the cattle industry millions of dollars in annual losses. Yet despite its demonstrable utility, funding for screwworm eradication in Central America by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (to prevent incursions northward into the United States) in 2005 was described as “getting ‘screwed’ by the government” in The Pig Book: How Government Wastes Your Money.” (Berenbaum 2016)

The concept of releasing flies to reduce the number of flies is counterintuitive at first. Someone without a science background reading a blurb about that online would likely be alarmed. Our role as scientists is to reach out to everyone to reassure them and explain the work we do. Listening is also important here, along with answering any followup questions. Interestingly, screw worms have been detected once again in the Florida Keys . So far, they have only been detected on an endangered deer species, but they could spread to other animals relatively quickly, potentially threatening even the mainland’s economy in addition to an entire species. A quarantine has been implemented, but sterile insect technique may have to be implemented to truly mitigate the threat that these insects pose. I’m sure that people will be in uproar about these “unnatural” techniques, but it’s in everyone’s best interest (as the following photo illustrates. The deer was alive with all of this happening on it. Warning: super gross! ). Outreach is hard, but incredibly important to the full implementation of both the land grant mission and our mandate as scientists! Over time, we can help everyone embrace the work that we do and the great things that we can bring.

 

Berenbaum M. “Speaking of Insects…”. Science. 2016 Vol. 353, Issue 6306, pp. 1343. 10.1126/science.aaj2166

Assigned Post 2: Ethics

I visited the Entomological Society of America’s website to find their ethics statement (http://www.entsoc.org/about_esa/esa-ethics-statement):

A. Treat all people with civility, avoiding harassment and discrimination,

B. Uphold the highest standards of truthfulness and honesty in all scientific and professional endeavors,

C. Evaluate the work of colleagues fairly and with open-mindedness,

D. Recognize past and present contributors to science and not claim credit for accomplishments of others,

E. Disclose potential conflicts of interest,

F. Offer professional advice only on those subjects in which they are qualified,

G. Expose scientific and professional misconduct promptly, and

H. Comply with all laws and regulations that apply to our science and profession.

I think that F (“Offer professional advice only on those subjects in which they are qualified”)  is pretty interesting. When people find out that I study insects, they assume that I know everything about every insect and insect-related issue. While it’s true that I am knowledgeable about insect ecology, especially as it relates to agriculture, there are many areas that are outside of my expertise. For example, I am often asked about Zika, which is a virus vectored by mosquitoes. I am not a medical entomologist by training, so I try to answer questions as best as I can based on the articles that I’ve read. Am I really qualified to talk about zika though? Probably not. On the other hand, I can at least direct people to others who might know more than I do.

However, overall I was surprised that the ethics statement was so short and relatively undescriptive. While it’s true that the same general principles of ethics apply to most fields of study, one might expect there to be additional ethical considerations for specific fields. So, I decided to take a look around and see what I could find on research ethics in the entomological world.

A quick google search of “research ethics entomology” yielded the several great articles to discuss for this assignment. One of these articles, entitled “A Perspective on Education in Research Ethics for Entomology Graduate Students,” can be found here: http://ae.oxfordjournals.org/content/ae/56/4/198.full.pdf . In the article, science ethics in general are discussed, with the typical concerning statistics on the lack of training in ethics among scientists and entomologists. One interesting aspect that the article covered, which doesn’t typically get a lot of attention, is whether or not science ethics are discussed between advisors and their students. According to the article, while some ethics issues, such as plagiarism, are typically discussed, others, such as reporting misconduct, are not. It’s unclear why some topics are discussed more frequently than others. Ideally students should be getting thorough training in all aspects of being a scientist from their advisors, including how to appropriately handle cases of miscounduct that all of us are bound to come across. While respondants to the surveys identified these topics as important, they were still not being discussed, which is concerning. I think that most people are at least aware of the importance of science integrity, but that it should be more openly discussed.

Another interesting post I found (https://www.amentsoc.org/publications/online/collecting-code.html) outlines a code of conduct for collecting insects and other arthropods. Collecting and preserving insects is critical to the field of entomology. Many entomologists start personal collections long before their official training. Specimen collection is essential for a variety of reasons, such as documenting new species, recording insect distribution over time, and educational purposes. The code itself is actually pretty long, but essentially, it states that we should only collect what is absolutely needed and that we should do as little long-term damage to the environment or insect populations as possible. This is common sense I think, but it’s nice to see it in writing.

Overall, I think that entomologists (and most scientists), are ethical people. We seek to improve society, not undermine it with unethical research or behavior. There are of course exceptions (as we covered in class), but I do not think those people are the rule.

Mission Statements

The first assigned blog post is about mission statements. I’ve chosen to look at the mission statements of my two previous institutions.

Gettysburg College (Gettysburg, PA): 

Gettysburg College is a small, liberal arts college in south central Pennsylvania. Approximately 2,600 undergraduate students are enrolled and no graduate programs are offered. Their mission statement can be found here: http://www.gettysburg.edu/about/college_history/mission_statement.dot . The focus of the school is providing an undergraduate liberal arts education in a small classroom setting. Other than my general chemistry classes, most of my classes had fewer than 20 students. This fosters an environment of deep inquiry and discussion. I very rarely took an exam that was even partly multiple choice. I did however write plenty of essays and lab reports, in addition to presentations. There are few institutions where you are afforded the opportunity to design and conduct your own experiments, under the guidance of faculty of course, and Gettysburg College is one of them. I knew my professors and peers well and felt comfortable discussing nearly any topic with them, scientific and personal. I also was required to take courses outside of my major, broadening my horizons further. These experiences laid the foundation for the scientist that I have become, and I am incredibly grateful for my four years of study there. Even though I am more drawn to the resear

1462646_10152754123744786_2822360683245677606_o
The Musselman Library at Gettysburg College

ch and service aspects of land-grant universities, I could see myself teaching at a small liberal arts school such as Gettysburg College. Mentoring the next generation of scientists is just as important as carrying out the research itself. My experience at Gettysburg fully reflects their mission statement.

 

Michigan State University (East Lansing, MI):

Michigan State University is a large, research-intensive, land-grant university located in central Michigan. Their mission statement can be found here: http://president.msu.edu/advancing-msu/msu-mission-statement.html . MSU has over 50,000 students, 11,500 of whom are graduate students. In many senses it felt like the polar opposite of Gettysburg College. Undergraduate classes have hundreds of students in them. Many undergraduates do not get any face time with their professors. The campus is huge and sprawling. According to friends who received their bachelors degrees from MSU, these factors often leave undergraduates feeling lost in a huge ocean of people. For my graduate studies however, it was pretty ideal. The department had plenty of resources to support my research, and I knew many of the faculty well. The mission statement is interesting because it has many parallels with Gettysburg’s, such as its focus on global citizenship. However, it does focus more on research and outreach. This makes sense, as MSU is a land-grant institution that by definition must serve the state through research and service, in addition to education. I had many opportunities to conduct high-quality research and share it with the public in a variety of contexts during my studies at MSU. It was fulfilling to know at the end of

Michigan State University's mascot, "Sparty"
Michigan State University’s mascot, “Sparty”

the day my hard work would benefit many others. It was this sense that I was doing “good” in the world that helped motivate me. Even if you’re personally interested and invested in whatever you’re studying, knowing that you’re helping others at the end of the day can really help you push through the more challenging moments, as cheesy as that sounds. Overall MSU does a great job of living up to its mission statement.

 

First Post: Introduction

I’ve been struggling with how to start this blog. I’m much more accustomed to scientific writing and haven’t had to write in a different way since completing my undergrad or preparing my personal statements for grad school. I’m excited to practice writing outside of scientific contexts!

My name is Nicole Quinn. I am a second semester PhD student in the department of Entomology here at Virginia Tech. Entomology is the study of insects (though it often includes other invertebrates too, such as spiders). I am studying the brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys), otherwise known as BMSB, and how it interacts with wild insects and plants found near apple and peach orchards. BMSB cause millio

The brown marmorated stinkbug (Halyomorpha halys)
The brown marmorated stink bug (Halyomorpha halys)

ns of dollars in crop damage yearly, so understanding how it interacts with its environment is important in developing management programs to help farmers. I am passionate about entomology. While I love insects and find it very satisfying on an intellectual level to study them, I also find it personally fulfilling to help society in this way.

 

However, I did not always think that I would be an entomologist. While I always had a strong interest in insects and ecology from a young age, I always thought I would be a veterinarian. I left Massachusetts for Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, PA to begin my undergraduate pre-vet studies in 2008. It quickly became clear to me that it was not the right fit. I stayed in the biology major but did not stay on the pre-vet track. Instead, I took more ecology courses, including a study abroad in Ecuador and a thesis project South Africa. I ended up completing two more thesis (or capstone) projects because I loved doing research so much, even though only one was required. I knew that I wanted a career in independent research, preferably involving insects. This was further cemented by an internship with Penn State that I had in my last semester, where I worked in an entomology lab with BMSB, among other insects. But, with student loan debt bearing down on me, I thought I would at least try to work for a couple years before going to grad school.

After graduating in 2012, I worked at a science journal in Cambridge, MA, and quickly became bored with the mundane office work and daily commutes. I began applying to grad school almost immediately. I ended up quitting my science journal job after 6 months to work on a research project in east Texas, where I hiked and drove an ATV around all day checking insect traps. I felt revitalized to be back in the field and back in the world of science and insects. Around this time, I was also offered an assistantship at Michigan State University to complete an MS in Entomology, which I accepted. Completing my master’s was an incredible growing experience for me personally and professionally that I am still processing since I only just completed it in December 2015. I met so many incredible, supportive people there, and have met many wonderful people here too. I am excited to continue to grow and explore here at Virginia Tech.