Communicating Science Effectively

My mom, like many parents, is on Facebook and sometimes follows my friends that she knows (or vice-versa). She recently pointed out one of my friend’s profiles to me. This friend is a mother to three children and is very into fitness and health. Some of the things she promotes do not align with my beliefs as a food scientist, however she has a fairly large following. My mom was pointing out how much she liked her social media platform. I rolled by eyes because I become annoyed with the whole “clean eating” and “juice cleanse” fads. However, I had to admit that she was obviously doing something right to have so many individuals seeking advice from her.

After spending some time looking through her social media outlets, I picked up on some characteristics that set her apart from others. She was relatable, she was often vulnerable with her viewers, and her steps to taking action were very simple. Are scientists relatable? No. Are they ever vulnerable to those they are sharing information with? No. Are the items they produce easy for others to understand or implement? No. Well there you go folks. This is why the general public has a difficult time trusting the science world. Of course these are blanket statements, but for the most part I find them to be true.

Even for scientists that desire/have a knack for doing these types of things, there is pushback from their very own. Some scientists don’t believe that anything other than the “hard sciences” is science. And even within the hard sciences, if researchers tend to move more towards qualitative research or engaging with the general public, they can be looked at as doing things of lesser nature.

There is a reason why Mommy Bloggers tend to flourish. Scientists don’t always seem like real people with real lives. Even though “communicating science” is a hot topic and tends to be one that everyone says they support, when it comes down to it, the support isn’t fully there from all sides. I would like to see a shift in more respect and understanding for qualitative research and for initiatives that link scientists and the general public in a more personal way.

I am currently a part of a working group titled “Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience” that works to make science that is related to food more easy to understand. This initiative is supported by some of the faculty members and peers in my department, but I would like to see a much larger group of scientists beginning to understand the crucial need for connecting with consumers.

Facebook: Don’t Eat the Pseudoscience

Twitter: DontEatPseudo


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Why It’s Time for Faculty Teaching Reviews to Change

The way in which teaching faculty are evaluated is very faulty. Universities do typically implement different types of evaluation, however the way that these evaluations are conducted may not be effective.

Now that it is the end of the semester, I am continuously getting notifications to fill out the Student Perspectives of Teaching (SPOT) evaluations for each course. Although some professors may encourage students to fill them out, students typically receive no incentive for completing them. The SPOT reminders begin to come out right when a student is at the busiest part of their semester, which is another barrier. I would say that students usually only fill them out if they feel strongly (one way or another) towards a course or its instructor. If there were things that the instructor did that a student did not like, it is the one time when the student gets to voice their opinion, although it sometimes may turn into more of a venting session rather than providing the instructor with constructive criticism.

I believe that SPOT evaluations would be more beneficial if the professor incorporated them into their syllabus (I have one professor that does this) so that the students see that it is a professor’s priority and so that they know when to expect them. Students will be even more likely to fill it out if there is some sort of incentive like extra credit points. However, this may be difficult to track since the form is anonymous.

One of my professors recently told me that because he will have one student saying his class was the worst class he/she has ever taken, while he will also get a SPOT saying his class was the best class another student has ever taken, he doesn’t really take them to heart. Whether a professor incorporates the feedback into future teaching is solely up to them. I’ve known professors to make changes in regards to many different aspects of their teaching, while some have said it didn’t matter how many negative reviews they received, they would still move forward with teaching the same way they have always taught.

Peer teaching reviews for instructors also have their shortcomings. Instructors in my department typically review one another. The issue with this is that professors obviously do not want to create any sort of conflict with the individuals they work with on a regular basis. Therefore, this could cause reviewers to not fully be honest in their reviews.

There are also few instructors that have been trained in teaching to begin with. It may not be the best idea to ask someone to be a reviewer if they have no knowledge or experience related to pedagogical practices. One of my suggestions would be to utilize teaching faculty from other departments and/or to have more faculty trained in teaching methods.


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Student Athletes: Set up for Failure or Success?

Student athletes tend to have many responsibilities in addition to the academic obligations that all college students already face. I have known student athletes to have mandatory weight lifting and running at 6 o’clock in the morning in order for the team to meet at a time that would not interfere with classes. Oftentimes practices are held every day for multiple hours each day. During the sporting season, students tend to experience heavy travel for games, keeping them away from school for several days. So how does a student athlete maintain good grades if they don’t have the time to dedicate to academics?

Colleges tend to provide student athletes with various resources to assist with the balance between their sporting careers versus their academic careers. Because only a very small number of collegiate players end up playing a sport professionally, it is essential that they are also prepared for a life outside of sports. Virginia Tech has a resource titled the Student Athlete Academic Support Services (SASS). These services provide student athletes with tutors, studying assistance, and academic skill development programs (1). Each sports team is assigned a single academic counselor that can work with them both as a whole and to meet individual needs (1).

There is however a debate as to whether colleges help student athletes too much. I vividly remember choosing to sit next to one of my friends in an undergraduate math class. We were told that where we sat the first day would be where we would remain sitting for the duration of the class. This friend happened to be a soccer player for the school. Let’s just say I got to sit next to her about three times the entire semester and instead got to sit next to her note-taker each week.


An example of academic assistance gone very wrong is the University of North Carolina (UNC) athletics scandal. Being a North Carolina native, I was in a UNC system college when this event unraveled. For almost two decades, student athletes were encouraged to take classes that did not meet in person and only required one assignment (2). Students were given a good grade despite how they actually performed on the assignment (2). Today it is estimated that this scandal has cost the university about 18 million dollars in legal costs (2).



What is your opinion on how student athletes are prepared academically?






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Are We Teaching Students How to Teach?

One of the reasons why I chose Virginia Tech for a PhD is because of its emphasis on teaching. Many universities boast of teaching as one of its missions, however not all universities actually prepare students to teach. I applied to one university’s Preparing the Future Professoriate program and attended the information session. During this session, the leaders described how students could not co-teach or teach a class outside of the discipline associated with their degree. This bothered me in the way in which these individuals did not even want to take into consideration a scenario where an interdisciplinary student may want to assist a member of their committee whom may not be in the same department as them. I find this to not be very common, but it most definitely happens sometimes. This program also wanted students to have already finished their qualifying exam before being admitted to the program.

Within the application, students were asked to describe their teaching philosophy. I found this to be an interesting question for students that had not yet been accepted into the program. Shouldn’t the program help a student form a teaching philosophy? Considering that there are not that many opportunities for students to teach to begin with, I believe so. The application also wanted to know about teaching awards and accolades related to the named teaching mentor. To clarify, the students had to choose their teaching mentor based upon the instructor of the course they wanted to teach. I disagree with this requirement because a teaching mentor should not have to be someone associated with the course itself. Of course the student will have to work with the instructor to develop materials for the course, however, another instructor may be able to assist with course design, activities, and evaluating student teaching.

Virginia Tech’s Graduate Teaching Scholar program provides a cohesive experience that begins right when a PhD student begins classes and lasts throughout the duration of their degree. I feel strongly that teaching programs should be set up in this way so that students can be fully prepared to take on a course themselves. Each cohort spends two-three years together, taking a course each semester to assist with teaching and course material preparation.


Although many graduate students serve as teaching assistants, these roles are often merely to assist with demonstrations and grading. The teaching assistant rarely helps to develop or deliver course materials. However, if graduate students are not actually being trained to teach, then how will they know how to do it?


I think some of the questions we need to ask are: 1) is higher education training graduate students to teach effectively? And 2) is higher education doing so in a way that makes sense to address the variability of student needs?


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Open Access Comes with a Price

Off the top of my head, I was not familiar with any open access journals related to food safety as my current lab group and previous lab group would only choose specific journals for its students to submit to. In my personal opinion, I would say that these journals, the Journal of Food Protection and Food Protection Trends, are seen as more elite journals because they are not open access.

After doing some research, I found that some food safety journals allow articles to remain open to the public if the author is willing to pay a fee. Food Control is a food safety journal that I have at least heard of that encompasses this trend of allowing open access articles for payment (1). It is the journal of the European Federation of Food Science and Technology (EFFoST) and the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) (1). Food Control names itself as “an international journal that provides essential information for those involved in food safety and process control” naming areas such as risk assessment, quality assurance, consumer issues, and many more (1). When I looked up the open access fee, I was shocked. The price is $3,300, excluding taxes (1). What a statement to make! Open access is possible in some legitimate journals, but it comes with a price.

To find a legitimate food safety journal with complete open access was not as easy. The Journal of Food: Microbiology, Safety & Hygiene highlights topics such as food preservation, foodborne diseases, and food handling and is run by OMICS International (2). To illustrate the inadequacy of this journal, I will add that the “aims and scopes” link did not even work. It boasts of open access at the top of its home page, claiming that these types of journals are gaining more readers and citations (2). However, even the website design reflects that it is so very different from the food safety journals that are not open access.

Although I find it to be crucial, there are still many issues with open access. At least in the field of food science/food safety, journals that are considered reputable are typically not open access journals. I hope that there is a push for researchers to at least have the option to publish articles in a way that is accessible to everyone, especially as consumers are continuously becoming more interested in information regarding the foods that they eat.





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Top Hat – the new and improved clicker

When I was completing my undergraduate degree, the “clicker” was often used in large lecture halls. Students would be required to purchase a clicker online or at the school bookstore, but it could then be used for multiple classes and during each semester. Implementing clickers in the classroom was a way to take attendance in classes of a few hundred students, when otherwise taking attendance probably wouldn’t be possible. Clickers were also used as a means of reviewing questions where students could click in and contribute to the larger answer poll. Sometimes answering clicker questions earned a student points towards their grade as an incentive to come to class and to take a serious attempt at the questions being asked. However, there were also many downsides to using the clickers within the classroom. If students forgot their clickers, they wouldn’t receive the attendance/participation points for that day. This would cause an unwanted increased amount of communication between the students and the professor, as this was a frequent occurrence. The usage of clickers also created an environment where cheating was easy: students could have others bring their clickers to class to receive participation points when they did not attend.

Recently, my department has begun to integrate Top Hat into the undergraduate classroom setting. Top Hat has multiple features, but the professors within my department are concentrating on the lecture component of the app (1). Students are able to purchase the app so that they can follow along the lecture materials on either their phones or computers. Students may also answer questions or take quizzes via their phones. Top Hat has proven to have both pros and cons related to its usage within the classroom but has shown a lot of promise with over two million student users (2).

I would say with confidence that in this day in age students are more likely to bring their cellphones to class rather than remembering to bring an extra item like a clicker. This also minimizes cheating because students are less likely to have a friend bring their phone to class to receive attendance/participation points. Top Hat questions can be used as a means of breaking up long lectures or transitioning into new topics. It can also be used to review for exams. A few professors within my own department are using it as a way to administer quizzes during class time too.

Professors must allow students to bring their phones to class since the app can be accessed via phone. Because students must be ready to answer questions at any time, they must also have their phones readily available. This can distract students to use their phones for other activities as well, especially if it is being kept nearby. There is also the chance that students will forget their phone and therefore not be able to participate in class. Top Hat also comes with a cost; students must pay about $20 per semester for the app. My department is still in the beginning stages of learning whether this technology is something that will be continued throughout future semesters.







How NC’s HB2 has Impacted Higher Ed

As a North Carolina native, the controversy of the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act – House Bill 2(HB2), also referred to as the “Bathroom Bill”, has sparked many difficult conversations, not only within the state, but also among the rest of the nation. HB2 states that individuals must use restrooms and other similar types of facilities that are designated for their biological sex (1). There has been a great deal of push back related to the bill because some believe that it is discriminatory towards people whose gender identity conflicts with that which is listed on their birth certificate.

You may be thinking, “What does HB2 have to do with higher education?” It actually has affected higher education in many ways. Firstly, the bill states that “local boards of education shall establish single sex multiple occupancy bathroom and changing facilities” (1). So the bill puts a responsibility on the local boards of education to ensure that there are physical spaces that separate biological males and biological females whether leadership within the universities themselves agree or disagree with the bill.

“There’s a lot more at issue in higher education than this particular issue. I mean, come on.” – UNC President Margaret Spellings (2)

There has also been a lot of conversation surrounding the fact that federal funds that are provided to universities could potentially be cut because of ties to the bill. It is reported that about $2 billion was spent using federal funds in relation to higher education and adult education in previous years (3). There is the potential for losses of grant funding and also Title IX money (3).

The bill has also affected college athletics. The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has moved many games out of the North Carolina region. While Charlotte has often been a host to championship games, it is now being boycotted as a place to hold athletic events in protest of the bill.

In my personal opinion, the Bathroom Bill has put North Carolina Universities between a rock and a hard place. It seems like they don’t have a choice but to cooperate, however, funds could potentially be withdrawn due to discriminatory practices. I also think about the implications this bill has on the students. All students need to feel safe, however it is clear that the bill does not send a message of inclusiveness. Regardless of how one feels about the bill, I have a difficult time understanding why the bill needs to be put in place when there is not a way of enforcing it anyway. Are universities going to have guards at the front of the bathrooms asking for birth certificates?






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Ethics: How Informal Research Communication Matters Too

Before choosing a case summary to focus on, I browsed through the majority of them, making sure to read through a few cases from each year. There were two themes that caught my eye in relation to the ORI case summaries as a whole. The first thing I noticed was that most of the cases stemmed from disciplines of human medicine. As medical school and medical research can be very strenuous and competitive, I wonder if this type of environment contributed to some of these situations. The second thing I picked up on was that many of the cases were related to the manipulation of data: changing the number of participants, manipulating graphs, removing certain subjects, etc.

One question that I did have while browsing through the case summaries was about the different roles of responsibility within research. If a graduate student knowingly manipulated data, would the Principal Investigator (PI) also be held accountable if he/she knew about the manipulation of data? It looks like most of the case summaries are specific to those with full time positions rather than the graduate students themselves.

I chose to go into more detail about the case summary of Brandi Lyn Blaylock. This was one of the cases where the individual was actually a former graduate student at Wake Forest’s School of Medicine (1). This one was of interest to me because unlike many of the other cases, it mentioned ways in which research was falsified/fabricated in outlets other than publications. Brandi Blaylock falsified or fabricated data that was used in poster presentations, at lab meetings, and during grant updates (1). Falsified/fabricated data was presented that implied that monkeys responded to specific compounds when these compounds were not administered via the protocol (1). The repercussions following the misconduct included supervision of research duties, future institutions of employment submitting resources in conjunction with the respondent, and exclusion of serving in PHS leadership roles (1).

I was a bit surprised that poster presentations were included in this and even more surprised that lab meetings and grant updates were named. From my personal experience, lab meetings and grant updates serve more as a verbal means of communicating research rather than by means of writing. This case summary is a good reminder for us as graduate students that we can (and should) be held accountable for informal means of communicating research in addition to formal publication.


Lots of Acronyms! – Codes of Conduct in Food Science

The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) is the primary professional organization for those involved in Food Science and Technology. Its members can include individuals from the food industry, government bodies, non-profit organizations, and academic institutions. On their website, a Professional Code of Ethics is listed (1). The Professional Code of Ethics is geared towards Certified Food Scientists (CFS) and those that are seeking the credentials. I found it interesting that this Professional Code of Ethics is not broader in who it applies to as the majority of IFT members are not CFS. Many of the conditions are similar to those spoken about in class. One of the standards states that conduct that violates the Code of Ethics must be reported to the International Food Science Certification Commission (IFSCC). This body of individuals ensures that credential programs meet the standards of the International Standards Organization (ISO). There were also many points about avoiding and/or disclosing any conflicts of interests.

IFT also has a Code of Professional Conduct for its members (2). These consisted of six statements that were expanded upon in much further detail individually. The overarching themes included representing data/information in an accurate and unbiased manner and furthering the professional organization as a whole.

Also a professional organization, the International Association for Food Protection (IAFP) serves a subset of the larger population of Food Scientists. IAFP specifically engages Food Scientists that are involved in food safety. Guidelines for Ethical Conduct have been established for its members (3). These guidelines were very similar to that of IFT, but there was an additional emphasis on collaboration, assisting colleagues, and giving credit to others when necessary. I liked the statements about collaboration because although we shouldn’t have to have a written code establishing fairness and effective communication with colleagues, it is fairly common to witness scientists wanting to keep their data to themselves instead of extending the work with other professionals or groups.

I attempted to see if the Department of Food Science and Technology here at Virginia Tech had their own code of conduct for students. The only thing I could find that was similar to a code of conduct were expectations found in the Graduate Handbook -a bit of a stretch. These expectations referred back to Virginia Tech’s policies again and again.





NC Land-Grant Mission Statements

Mission statement 1 is from North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina (United States). This is the land-grant university I attended for both my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Food Science. Mission statement 2 is from North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina (United States). This university serves as the second land-grant university for the state of North Carolina. It is a historically black college that was created when the second Morrill Act was enacted.

For my Master’s degree I minored (everyone tells you that you can’t minor in graduate school; well why not?) in Agricultural and Extension Education. Therefore, I was required to take classes dedicated to teaching students about the history of land-grant universities. I find it very interesting that some states only have one primary land-grant university while others have two. Historically, the addition of a second land-grant university was to create a separate institution pertaining to race. But now that we are a much more progressive society, how do two land-grant universities work together within the same state to fulfill their own missions, while still advancing research as a whole? My experience was that there was still conflict regarding what role each university served within the state.

In both mission statements there is an emphasis on science and technology, which is common for land-grant universities. The mention of their global impacts is something that stood out to me. I initially didn’t think of the products of universities in North Carolina having much of a global influence, however, even just thinking about the many different countries and backgrounds represented in the PFP class is quite amazing.

As far as differences go, it seems as though NC A&T University puts a greater emphasis on community. The term “community engagement” is used and later on, outreach programs are mentioned. Although the NC State University mission mentions engagement with public partners, I interpret this as more of an industry driven relationship rather than the general public itself. With land grant universities typically having such a strong commitment to the surrounding community, I’m surprised that NC State’s mission lacks this piece. On the other hand, NC State University points out excellent teaching, whereas NC A&T does not. I have noticed from my transition from NC State to Virginia Tech that the prioritization of teaching can be very different from one university to the next. NC State did not require nearly as many trainings for graduate teaching assistants and did not provide as many resources for student teaching/those interested in teaching as a career in comparison to Virginia Tech. I’m also curious about the groups of people that approve these mission statements. NC State’s mission statement was approved by the NC State University Board of Trustees and the UNC Board of Governors. NC A&T’s mission statement was approved by the UNC Board of Governors only. Who are these groups of people and do mission statements have to be approved?

North Carolina State University

(1) “As a research-extensive land-grant university, North Carolina State University is dedicated to excellent teaching, the creation and application of knowledge, and engagement with public and private partners. By uniting our strength in science and technology with a commitment to excellence in a comprehensive range of disciplines, NC State promotes an integrated approach to problem solving that transforms lives and provides leadership for social, economic, and technological development across North Carolina and around the world.”

Approved by:

NC State University Board of Trustees, 4/22/11

UNC Board of Governors, 6/10/11


North Carolina A&T State University

(2) “North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University is an 1890 land-grant doctoral research university dedicated to learning, discovery, and community engagement. The University provides a wide range of educational opportunities from bachelors to doctoral degrees in both traditional and online environments. With an emphasis on preeminence in STEM and a commitment to excellence in all its educational, research, and outreach programs, North Carolina A&T fosters a climate of economic competitiveness that prepares students for the global society.”

Approved by the UNC Board of Governors, Feb. 21, 2014