Hunger and homelessness in community college students

While looking through the Motherblog (I love that name), I spotted an article in the Chronicle that caught my eye.  This article discusses a study looking at the incredibly shocking rates of community college students that experience, what they term, ‘food insecurity’ (aka either decreased access to food, hunger, etc.) as well as homelessness.

Link to article

This headline caught me completely off guard.  Though I more often have my head stuck in an Immunology textbook or manual discussing rodent techniques to prepare for my next experiment, I do not consider myself completely oblivious to world problems.  But I was, in fact, completely oblivious to hunger and homelessness being issues experienced by community college students.  This study looked at 4,000 students representing 10 different institutions.  Almost half (HALF!) of all respondents reported having marginal food insecurity in the past 30 days.  Marginal food insecurity was defined as having anxiety over shortness of food.  HALF!  I know we as students all struggle with money but to see a statistic where people are actually concerned about where their next meal might come from is heart breaking.  Similar numbers had experienced home insecurity represented by difficulty paying for rent and utilities.  How can one properly obtain an education and focus on studying when their bellies are growling and they are not sure if they will make rent this month??

Additionally the article points out that many students facing these issues do not take advantage of programs currently available to help them.  I wonder though, if this is more likely due to a lack of knowledge about these programs as opposed to any other reason.

Finally, the article posits many ways in which these statistics can be addressed and changed.  They discuss public policy changes, increasing public awareness of programs to assist in acquiring food and shelter, and expanding support programs (including mental health programs) on community college campuses.  I found this article interesting as well as important in highlighting a problem to which I have unfortunately been blissfully ignorant.

If I could have one wish . . . what would it be . . .

One thing I would like to change about higher education . . . I would like to see an improvement in the work-life balance.  This is one topic that I address in my scholarly essay.  Unfortunately, from here on, I can only mostly comment on the female experience with respect to work-life balance, as my essay focuses mostly on the role of women in academic medicine.

 

One really interesting article I read was written by Tessie W. October and found in Frontiers in pediatrics this year.  I won’t go into too much detail as I discuss this further in my essay but basically this is an article discussing a woman’s various thoughts during maternity leave for each of her three children.  It chronicles some of the really important bias and stereotypes that women in academic medicine, who also have families, face.  It discusses the bias she has of herself when she tries to be the perfect mother as well as the perfect academic physician.  Also it discusses the biases of society when they chastise her for utilizing her maternity leave in a way they feel is unmotherly.  I really enjoyed the article (and will include a link at the end of this blog) as a way to capture many of the reasons, in my opinion, women feel that they are constantly failing at work-life balance . . . especially in academic medicine.

 

I feel like an improvement in this aspect is important to not only maintaining women in academic medicine (and likely higher education), but too also simply improving the institution as a workplace.  Again, I am biased towards the female aspect as that what what my paper focused on, but many of the studies I looked at evaluated both men and women.  In general, women generally were more dissatisfied with work-life balance then men.  So, if we as an institution can make it easier to achieve such a balance through the use of emergency daycare options, flexible maternity leave, work-at-home options, lactation rooms, etc., I think we can improve the working capabilities of women in academic medicine (and higher education).

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4585105/

Can women have babies and do science too?

I wanted to share a quick article that popped up on my Facebook feed and, interestingly, was very relevant to the essay I am finishing up. My essay pertains to women in academia and the gender disparities they experience. The full length version of the article can be found here: http://www.nature.com/news/scientist-disinvited-from-speaking-at-conference-because-of-her-pregnancy-1.18946?WT.mc_id=FBK_NatureNews. The purpose of the article was to describe a recent situation experienced by a female scientist who was rescinded an invitation to speak at a conference due to her being 7-months pregnant. According to the article, the woman accepted an invitation to speak at the European Commission (EC) conference in Brussels. When making her travel arrangements, she told the agent that she preferred to travel by train as opposed to airplane because, at the time, she would be 7 months along. After that, she was contacted by someone from the conference rescinding her invitation. They claimed they did not want to compromise her safety that late in pregnancy. When she pursued the matter further, a variety of other excuses were made and, though they apologized and said they would look into the matter further, there was no change in their decision for her to not speak.

This is an interesting article because it brings up an important gender difference that we cannot ignore. Women can have babies and men cannot. There is nothing in science (yet) that can change this. However, how society treats and makes assumptions about pregnant women can. For examples, in this situation, they claimed that the EC was concerned about this woman’s health. Her health and the health of her unborn child is no business of theirs. How and where she can travel are between her and her doctor. So what is the underlying reason for the cancellation. Is it really her health? Or is it the perception that a pregnant woman is a fragile being who couldn’t stand the stress of travel and/or speaking in front of colleagues?

Facebook in your personal vs. professional life

I recently went to a conference where a session was hosted to help attendees understand how important having a web presence is nowadays.  I was somewhat surprised to learn that many companies will actually search job candidates on social media.  Now I am not one to post crazy pictures of myself or write completely inappropriate messages on Facebook, however, I do sometimes take a few moments to vent about a bad day at work or sarcastically joke about my life as a forever student.  However, since hearing this, I have noticed myself becoming more and more hesitant about using social media as it was intended . . . to be social.  Simple things like posting pictures of my son for the grandparents now make me question how it might affect my career.  What if my next interview is an employer who doesn’t like hiring mothers?  Or maybe that employer will choose the other candidate because s/he is not going to call out for a child’s illness.  And though I do not agree with posting inappropriate pictures or messages on social media like Facebook, ultimately, I feel that it is that person’s prerogative to so.  I guess I sort of feel like it is an invasion of privacy (of sorts) for a company to use that in making a decision to hire someone or not.

Does the perfect trifecta exist?

One of the topics we have discussed before in class is the traditional expectation that professors should excel at all three pillars of academia-teaching, research, and service.  This has always made me a little apprehensive about going into higher education as it seems virtually impossible to be the best at all 3.  I find it interesting that these 3 are mentioned in the mission statements of the land grant universities.  Does this expectation then simply reflect the university as a whole trying to achieve what they stated they could?  Like we have discussed, I think that rather than put that on the individual professors, why can’t a university achieve this trifecta through the collective effort of all its professors.  Wouldn’t we be better suited to try and find the best of the best in each pillar?  Meaning why don’t we let those that excel at teaching teach and those that excel; at research do research and so on.  It seems like when you try and have everyone be the best of the best, you really just end up with a lot of mediocrity.  And what university strives to be the best at being average?

Scientific integrity affects us all

The case that I have chosen to blog about is “Anil Potti” from the ORI website which occurred in 2015, a great example of straightforward research misconduct.    According to the Office of Research and Misconduct, research misconduct is defined as “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results”.  In this case, Dr. Potti was found guilty of reporting data from patients that were never enrolled in clinical trials and changing clinical data to make it fit her conclusions.

To me, as a student, sitting at my computer writing this blog, something like this seems almost unbelievable.  First of all, don’t we all want to be good researchers, and, by default, ethical?  And second, why would such an educated person feel the need to commit such a direct act of . . . well . . . wrongness.  But, the truth is that there is an incredible amount of pressure in the scientific field to publish and produce results.  As I learn more and more about being a primary investigator (either in industry or academia), I realize how much this is true.  In an ideal world, all our experiments would work out and all our grants would get funded, but, that just isn’t true.  And especially with the economy as it is and decreases in grant funding, the competition only gets worse.

Unfortunately, the effects of research misconduct go well beyond the researcher doing it.  Not only do they subject themselves to consequences, but those in their lab as well.  And, on an even broader scale, it effects the whole scientific community.  It not only reduces our credibility as a field, but also puts others’ research at risk.  Other scientists often build their own research off of what has been published.  False data can lead to wasted time and bad results for others.