Additional blog 5: How do we match employers needs with students skills?

This was part of the topics we discussed during the last lecture of the “Preparing the Future Professoriate” Class that I took this spring. From our discussions that day, it seems that the answers to that topic constitute a grey area. In other words, we concluded it’s somewhat difficult for schools to teach students the whole set of skills employers want. However, schools do a really good job preparing students for the job market by teaching them the technical skills they need. For example, students majoring in computer science are trained to work at companies such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, as well as other IT companies. At the same time, many of these students find themselves jobless after graduation. To increase students job market success after graduation, it then becomes crucial that schools and employers work together. In an article titled “What’s Really Behind Employers’ Interest in Education?”, published in the Chronicle of Higher Education by Goldie Blumenstyk, employers were asked the one thing they should do to ensure that new hires and existing staff members get the skills they need to be successful. Most of the employers surveyed stated that encouraging their employees to want to train themselves and learn more skills is very key in their success. I found those answers very interesting, but it still does not completely address students who are getting on the job market for the first time. I think more research should be conducted in this area.

Additional blog 4: Are students evaluation really considered ?

Top universities are characterized not only by the research they carry out, but also and more importantly by the good quality of the courses that they teach. End of semester course evaluations are one way to help improve course quality. These evaluations ensure that teachers pass on the best possible knowledge onto students, as well as a continuous self-assessment so as to improve their class content or teaching methods. Nevertheless, it could be argued that these evaluations are only considered when there are really bad evaluations or misconduct. This should not be the case. I truly believe that constructive students comments should be accounted for. Otherwise, students evaluations would become a formality that they have to fulfill that the end of each semester. I remember I took a class for which, I (and most of my colleagues who took the class with me) found the workload to be very heavy. We all found the class was very instructive and well taught, but stated in our evaluation that the workload for the class should be reduced to make it even more attractive. The students from the following year complained about the same thing. That is an isolated case, but I have heard similar stories from many of my colleagues. It’s also imperative to note that some teachers adjust their class contents and teaching methods based on evaluations.

Additional blog 3: What is the best way for students to make their voices heard?

There are many ways to make one’s voice heard when we don’t agree with a situation.  For students, protests are the most common way to make our voices heard about situations that we deem unfair. In the history of U.S. (and international) higher education, students have been granted many requests due to protests. At the same time, many students have been either arrested, injured or have even lost their lives in protests for which they have not received satisfaction. This raises a simple question: what is the most effective way for students to make universities administration grant their requests? One of my colleagues who also attends a U.S. school once told me about a protest students had in his school. They decided to protest against the recent increase in the cost per credit hours. Protests lasted for about three days but the university would not budge. In the meantime, many students were arrested during the protests, which at some point became a little violent due to confrontations between students and the Police. These arrested students now have a criminal record, which could be a huge impediment for them in the future to secure a job. That is one reason why many people (including students) don’t like protests, especially those that could lead to violence.

Additional blog 2: What are we doing to prevent PhDs from damaging their health?

There have been many studies that show that a Ph.D. takes a toll on students’ health. Many students finish their Ph.D. weaker and sicker than they started. Some even cannot complete their Ph.D. because they suffer from depression during their Ph.D. The question one is tempted to ask is what has such a negative impact on some Ph.D. students’ health. From where I stand, there are  2 potential causes. The first and obvious one is that the Ph.D. is a very tense process, and to be successful in their classes and research, students have to work extremely hard. Second, Ph.D. students’ advisors are the most important factor in their Ph.D. If you have the right work ethics, and a supportive advisor, your chances of completing your degree on time. One thing that has a significant negative effect on Ph.D. students health is the time of completion. I have heard a story of a girl who ended her own life because her advisor didn’t want to let her graduate after five years and kept her for almost 8 years.

The scariest thing is that it seems as if everyone knows exactly how the Ph.D. takes a toll on students health, but nobody really wants to do anything about it. Some people will say you need to go through those experiences so you earn your Ph.D. I somewhat disagree and think something needs to be done to help Ph.D. students graduate on time and healthy.

Additional blog 1: GRE fails to identify successful Ph.D. students

This was the title of an article that came out on the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) news. The article addressed an important topic in U.S. higher education, that I feel we are all avoiding to discuss. Using the results from a study conducted by RIT researchers, the article showed that GRE doesn’t predict students success as effectively as expected. The study used a pool of Ph.D. students from RIT’s physics department, and a factor such as undergraduate GPA was found to be the most robust predictor of Ph.D. completion. The study also found significant gender and race-based differences. In other words, using the GRE as main factor for Ph.D. admission discriminates against women and minorities. This raises an important issue when it comes to assessing Ph.D. applications. I was victim of that myself. When I applied to Ph.D. programs after my masters, one school clearly rejected me by stating that my level background reflected through my GRE score was not enough to be admitted in their program. I knew that was a wrong assessment of my math’s level because I have a strong math background (from high school and undergrad) and that does not necessarily show in my GRE scores. Experience has shown that performing well in GRE is positively related with test taking abilities. In addition, having taken the GRE a couple times now, I know the content covered has nothing to do with the math skills required in the Ph.D. in Economics for instance. In sum, Ph.D. programs in the U.S. need to go a better job in identifying other factors that can be equally important in assessing Ph.D. applications.

Stop denigrating non-STEM scholars

One thing that I believe should change in higher education is the way some scholars denigrate or look down on certain fields of study. I was having a casual discussion with a friend a few years ago and he made a comment that I found a little inappropriate. He was saying that only people who are lazy and can’t do well in Maths run away from STEM fields. I vehemently opposed to his opinion and stated that it’s a stereotype. He even added that I should just look at the highest paid jobs in academia and other fields. Those are jobs from STEM fields.

Unfortunately, many other people in academia think like him and I genuinely think they are wrong. I am in Economics, which is not part of the STEM fields, but ECON is known to be one of the most difficult fields. Similarly, there are many other non-STEM fields that are very challenging and still contribute to humanity’s evolution. This notion that the “smartest” people in Academia are only in STEM needs to change.

Use and obstacles to social media use in Higher Education

For this blog post, we were asked to find an infographic or article about how faculty (higher education) are using and/or reacting to social media. I chose an article written by Manca S. and Ranieri M. (2016) titled:  “Facebook and the others. The Potentials and obstacles of Social Media for teaching in higher education”. The article used a sample of 6139 faculty across different regions in Italy to analyze whether and how Social Media are used in higher education for teaching purposes. Specifically, the study aimed to investigate the socio-demographic variables (age, gender, academic discipline, number of years of teaching, and academic title) that influence the frequency of use of Social Media in Teaching as well as the obstacles that prevent faculty from using them.

Results showed that 64% of the survey respondents declared using at least one out of the 8 Social Media presented to them. The most used social media was YouTube-Vimeo (39.3%) followed by Blog-Wiki (28.7%), and ResearchGate-Academia.edu (25.6%). Out of 5833 respondents, only 38.6% admitted finding Social Media useful for educational purposes, while 37.4% of them found it useless. 24% of them were undecided.

As far as the influence of socio-demographic characteristics, the results showed that gender predicted the frequency of use of Twitter. Respondents with ages that range from 25-54 tended to use Twitter more than those with age 55+. Also, people with more years of experience were found to use Twitter more than other Social Media.

Regarding obstacles to faculty use of Social Media, three main categories were discussed:

  • Cultural and socio-relational dimension, which includes “items related to students’ distraction
  • Pedagogical and teaching dimension, which refers to “workload, pedagogical effectiveness and diffusion among students” and,
  • Administrative and managerial dimension, which relates to administrative and institutional issues.

This was a very interesting article, which shows that although some Social Media outlets have been adopted in academia (YouTube and Research Gate), they are still facing quite a few obstacles to become very popular in the school environment. The study also shows that most faculty admitted not finding the use of Social Media useful for teaching purposes. Given their popularity and considering the fact that most students have at least social media account, their use for educational purposes could prove to be effective. At the same time, tackling the above-mentioned obstacles will could also improve the effectiveness of use of Social Media in Higher education.

 

The Reality behind Open Access Journals!

For this blog post, I decided to choose the open access journal called Heliyon (Heliyon.com).  Heliyon is an open access journal which is has partnered with the Journal of Development Economics (JED), which is one of the top journals in my field: Agricultural Economics. Reading through Heliyon’s website allowed me to have a better understanding of how Open Access journals operate.

Heliyon is an open access journal located in London (United Kingdom) and has partnered with over 1000 journals, including many of Elsevier journals to provide a fast and easy route to submit and publish manuscripts. From my understanding, there are two ways to publish an article in Heliyon. Authors can either submit their manuscripts on Heliyon’s website using the ELSVIER editorial system or transfer their manuscripts from any Elsevier journal to Heliyon. In both of these cases, the authors have to follow Heliyon’s publication procedures (https://www.heliyon.com/publication-process/). However, in the latter case, they don’t need to reformat their papers before transferring it to Heliyon.

“ The authors who choose to transfer their manuscript in Heliyon will enjoy:

  • High Visibility – Heliyon is abstracted and indexed in the Web of Science™ Emerging Sources Citation Index (ESCI), PubMed Central, and Scopus. Papers from Heliyon have been covered in top tier media sources including The New York Times, CNN, Science Magazine, and Newsweek.
  • Editorial Excellence – Heliyon’s expert editorial team and editorial board of over 900 researchers from all disciplines ensures your paper receives ample editorial support.
  • Fast Publication – typically, first editorial decisions are made within three days of submission and papers are published online within only four months” (Heliyon Website).

However, authors who want to publish their manuscript in Heliyon have to pay an Article publication fee of $1,250. I found this fee a little high. A quick browsing through a few Open access journals website show that all of them have such fees. The fees are referred to as Article Publication Charge (APC).

I genuinely wasn’t aware that Open access journals charge such high APCs for  publication. I must admit, it was very surprising to me. I believe that such fees constitute an impediment to the Open Access movement. For instance, most graduate students (or undergraduate students for that matter) will find it difficult to publish in those journals because of those fees. For an advancement of the Open Access movement, I think journals should work towards a considerable reduction of APCs and ultimately a complete suppression.

When Postdocs engage into research misconduct !

While browsing through the different research misconduct cases on the Office of Research Integrity (ORI) website, one specifically caught my attention. The case involved a former postdoctoral fellow (Dr. Kenneth Walker) at the Department of Pediatrics, University of Pittsburgh (UP), who falsified and/or fabricated data for the submission of a manuscript and application to grants. I decided to blog about this specific case because this is the first that I have come across a misconduct case involving a postdoc.

 

According to the ORI, after the misconduct was uncovered, the postdoctoral fellow entered into a Voluntary Settlement Agreement (Agreement) and has voluntarily agreed to have his research supervised for three years, and that any institution that wishes to hire him should submit certification to ORI that the data provided by the respondent are based on actual experiments or are otherwise. Dr. Walker has also agreed to exclude himself from serving in any advisory capacity to Public Health Service (PHS).

 

Other than ruining his reputation, the incident might have also destroyed Dr. Walker’s career. Although that wasn’t mentioned in the ORI report, Dr. Walker will never be the same scientist again. He and his family might have probably been affected mentally and psychologically. Further, postdocs are transitional positions, and it will be very hard for him to get hired somewhere else because no recruiters will want to hire someone with such degrading previous records, which means that his livelihood could also be affected.

 

 

Being from social science, and particularly Applied Economics, I have heard and read many similar cases. In most of those cases, researchers had falsified data or had forged results just to show that their studies had led to outstanding results so readers can give them credit for that.  However, this should never be the case. As researchers, we owe our audience the responsibility of reporting whatever results our research has produced, be it what we expect or not. I will conclude by saying that we never hope to see or read about these kinds of incidents in the scientific community. However, these ORI cases are there to remind us of the twist our career can take if we ever engage in such activities.

The two higher education institutions that I chose for this blog post are Michigan State University and North Carolina University (NCSU).  My choice for Michigan State University (MSU) was pretty simple since I received my Master’s degree in Agricultural Economics there in August 2016. My second choice was a request by one of my close friends schooling at NCSU and to whom I talked about this assignment.

Both schools are public land-grant universities located in the State of Michigan and North-Carolina (U.S.) respectively. As can been seen below, MSU’s mission statement revolves around three pillars: education, research, and outreach. On the other hand, although NCSU mission statement didn’t specifically use those same three words, it is clearly shown that it shares many similarities with MSU’s statement.

I found MSU’s mission statement to be a little more detailed and easier to comprehend. First, by using bullets points, MSU’s mission statement clearly showed the different areas that are key to their mission.  On the other hand, NCSU’s mission statement, which is a one-paragraph text is a little more difficult to dissect.  In terms of their similarities, both statements employ the term research, but in a slightly different way. Also, while MSU clearly talks about providing education to specific groups of students, NCSU uses the term “teach”, which as we all know is closely related to students. Third, both schools express in their respective statement, their desire to induce technological or economic development and to transform lives at home and around the world.

It is worth noting that Virginia Tech’s (which is also a public land-grant university) mission statement is centered around the same values: education, research, and outreach. Same applies to other schools that are neither public, nor land-grant universities (e.g. Harvard, Princeton, and Yale).

It is my first time taking a closer look at schools mission statements, and I really enjoyed reading and analyzing them. I was also genuinely impressed by how articulate and they were.

NB: The mission statements discussed are shown below and were copied from their school’s website. See link below each statement.

 

Michigan State University Mission Statement

“As a public, research-intensive, land-grant university funded in part by the state of Michigan, our mission is to advance knowledge and transform lives by:

  • providing outstanding undergraduate, graduate, and professional education to promising, qualified students in order to prepare them to contribute fully to society as globally engaged citizen leaders
  • conducting research of the highest caliber that seeks to answer questions and create solutions in order to expand human understanding and make a positive difference, both locally and globally
  • advancing outreach, engagement, and economic development activities that are innovative, research-driven, and lead to a better quality of life for individuals and communities, at home and around the world

http://president.msu.edu/advancing-msu/msu-mission-statement.html

 

North Carolina State University Mission Statement

“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”.

https://oirp.ncsu.edu/facts-figures/the-basics/university-mission/