Category Archives: Preparing the Future Professoriate

Blog posts related to the Preparing the Future Professoriate Course

i-Thenticate and plagiarism at VT

Recently, Grad School started offering i-Thenticate, a new tool for graduate students at Virginia Tech. The objective of this tool is to help students to review their papers, article drafts, and dissertation documents to avoid plagiarism. Many of us are teaching assistants, so, this is an excellent tool to use while reviewing written assignments from our students.

In class, we discussed unethical behaviors among professionals and academia. We saw that the production pressure that many professionals face can lead them to commit these types of behaviors. Among our students, plagiarism is a problem because several cases of plagiarism are found annually at Virginia Tech. Procrastination can facilitate academic misconduct in students. In the Internet era, plagiarism among students has increased and is hard to detect with the naked eye. Teaching assistants play a critical role in the promotion of academic integrity and honesty among undergraduate students.

In this sense, I believe that i-Thenticate can facilitate the peer-review process and grading. Which class are you teaching? Have you used i-Thenticate? What would be your reaction if you find abundant plagiarism in one of your students’ assignments?

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Multidisciplinary approaches to solve common problems

During the last seven years, I have worked in multidisciplinary teams where professionals from different fields work together to solve specific problems. With the current globalized world and with the ongoing climate change many innovations will be necessary to confront novel challenges. The future in academia should focus on multidisciplinarity to find more effective teaching and research that develop successful answers to the complex problems we will face.

Some important skills necessary when working in multidisciplinary teams include a sense of collective responsibility, respect for each other’s opinions, and consideration of everybody’s ideas in the decision-making process. That is, we need to develop team-work skills. Graduate school is the perfect opportunity to start this process.

A central aspect of why multidisciplinary teams are more successful is the diversity of the backgrounds and approaches. Team members come from different professions, which helps to create connection of different ideas, from different perspectives, that could not be done in isolation.

An important task for every professional is to respect and see as equal other fields of knowledge. Sometimes can be difficult to integrate social sciences, humanities, engineering, and the natural sciences together.

Is working in multidisciplinary teams encouraged in your field? Can you mention an example of professionals from different fields working in a project in your field?

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Critical Thinking Skills

For a class I took this semester I had to write critical reading notes weekly. There were several factors to identify in each reading but the most difficult task for me was to develop a counterargument. This challenge made me think: Are universities preparing their students to develop critical thinking skills? Or are we learning and applying knowledge? Are the young scholars able to discuss knowledge to make better judgments?

I found an article where researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln argued that universities are graduating students that are not prepared to think critically. I wonder if this statement can be generalized to all fields in academia.

Professors should teach how to think instead of what to think. We need to learn how to evaluate the information we receive. When we are undergrad students, we are only memorizing what others have created but we also need to think critically since an early stage. Critical thinking relies on evidence, rationality, discipline, and judgment. We must ask questions, gather information, and reaching reliable conclusions based on these evidences.

If we are considering becoming faculty, we need to acquire new pedagogical approaches to provide critical thinking skills to students that will be exposed to pseudoscience and fake news.

 

References:

  • Flores, K.L. et al. (2012). Deficient Critical Thinking Skills among College Graduates: Implications for leadership. Educational Philosophy and Theory. 44 (2).

 

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Mental health and work-life balance among grad students

Work-life balance is a concept known by everyone; however, a few people can say that they are 100% successful in practicing a work-life balance. Every person I have asked about this says that work-life balance is important but that they are not the best example of this practice.

All of us know that a grad student has a big amount of workload and many people to please and that sometimes we don’t have the time to rest, relax, and practice the activities we enjoyed the most outside of academia.

Among graduate students, there are more vulnerable groups. For example, a few months ago, I read an article about a big rate of suicides among veterinarians, that struck me. This study was based on information from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in January 2019. Some of the reasons they found for this rise are high levels of occupational stress related to long working hours, client expectations, unexpected outcomes, communicating bad news, poor work-life balance, high workloads, rising veterinary care costs, professional isolation, student debt, and lack of senior support.

In view of this reality, some Veterinary Schools have started to offer special counseling and stress management services to veterinary students, in order to provide more effective ways for improving their mental health and train them towards healthy stress management behaviors. Researchers have identified that there is a need for special programs for veterinary students, due to the differences between veterinary programs and other educational programs.

Many mental health disorders like depression and anxiety can affect our lives. A poor work-life balance can lead us to a mental health disorder. Even the impostor syndrome can take a toll on grad students if students do their best to impress and don’t find ways to manage their stress to improve in their performance.

We all need to be aware of these issues and try to find the solutions that fit better for each individually. We should try to practice the simple activities that provide us enjoyment and happiness. I chose to write about this topic because I think is something that we need to discuss among grad students. I would like to know your thoughts about work-life balance and your strategy to achieve it.

Do you work during the weekends or after 5pm during weekdays? Should Virginia Tech improve their mental health services and social activities for graduate students? Do you think that we as students seek help when we need it, or we isolate ourselves?

 

References:

  1. Tomasi, S.E. et.al., (2019). Suicide among veterinarians in the United States from 1979 through 2015. JAVMA, Vol. 254, No.1. https://avmajournals.avma.org/doi/pdf/10.2460/javma.254.1.104
  2. Kim, R.W. et.al., (2017). Toward an evidence-based approach to stress management for veterinarians and veterinary students. JAVMA, Vol. 251, No.9.
  3. Gelberg, H. and Gelberg, S. (2005). Stress Management Interventions for Veterinary Students. JVME 32(2).

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The Future of Professors and Inclusion in Higher Education

Virginia Tech is working to be a more diverse and inclusive university. It is trying to attract students that represent all the diversity that exists in the society, while at the same time is trying to retain students that represent minorities in the Hokie community.

I have seen that some departments are also investing to have a more diverse faculty team. However, there is still a considerable difference between the number of white and non-white faculty. According to the Office of Institutional Research & Effectiveness, Virginia Tech has a total of 1,496 tenure and tenure-track faculty. From that total, 72.7% are white and the rest is divided as follows: 14.3% Asian, 3.4% Hispanics, 3.2 Black or African American, 0.5% of two or more races, 0.4% American Indian or Alaska Native, 0.1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, and 5.3% are categorized as nonresident aliens.

In this sense, and because the background and experiences of every professor are different, I think that faculty should receive workshops on diversity and inclusion topics. These workshops should be in person and obligatory for all because an online course won’t be enough to transfer this sensitive information. Professors are important to advance in inclusion inside a university because they interact with students, are in charge of the future of education, and select the next generation of faculty. If Virginia Tech prepares its human resources to be more open and inclusive, the atmosphere and the students’ experiences will improve in the long term.

Diversity and inclusion are complex topics, so, every training opportunity will help to expand the faculty knowledge. This training could improve the experience of minority groups in their insertion to the Virginia Tech community.

References:

  1. Office of Institutional Research & Effectiveness, Virginia Tech. https://www.ir.vt.edu/data/facultyStaff.html

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Scientists and social media

Social media has become an important platform to access and share information globally. In academia, social media also has become a new way to publish research and share personal opinions. While some universities and departments require that their faculty members have a profile in social media and encourage them to have an active role, in general, is a personal choice to have a public profile. However, in an era of technology and social media, if research faculty wants to keep up with new research trends and have a broad audience for their research, they must have a public profile and contact with the public and other researchers.

Many researchers with a public profile in social media, have become famous and have a big number of followers. There are evidences that researchers with abundant followers will have more citations, maybe because they are reaching a bigger audience, or maybe because the public assumes that they are experts in a subject, without digging in their list of publications and achievements. The question is whether these researchers are famous for their research or just for their comments on social media?

I found an interesting 2014 article published in the journal Genome Biology, a peer-reviewed and open access journal of medicine. In that publication, the author’s argument is that some scientists have a big audience in social media, which does not mean they are the experts or authorities in a specific topic or field. He proposed a new metric “The Kardashian Index” to measure the real performance of scientists on social media as compared with their research achievements. While the author expressed that the study was done just for fun, it is interesting to see that the academic performance of a famous scientist could be due to his active participation in Twitter or they could have a mediocre research career. Indeed, the author compares these researchers with celebrity Kim Kardashian.

I will leave the link of this publication below in case if you want to read it (it is only 2 ½ pages long).

References:

  1. Hall: The Kardashian index: a measure of discrepant social media profile for scientists. Genome Biology 2014 15:424. (doi:10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0) https://genomebiology.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13059-014-0424-0?utm_source=Other_website&utm_medium=Website_links&utm_content=DaiDen-BMC-Genome_Biology-Biology-China&utm_campaign=BMCF_USG_BSCN_DD_GB_Index

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Open access, the best way to publish your research findings

Open access is a movement that started in the early 2000s and seeks to make research available online and free for everyone. It is positive because it makes available research that would otherwise not be accessible to most universities and people. There are several forms of open access, including gold and platinum. Gold open access eliminates the payment of fees to readers and libraries and charges fees to authors. Platinum open access aims to eliminate fees to readers and authors and, instead, publication costs are covered by external agencies. The payment structure of gold open access journals has allowed that many private companies owning journals become a millionaire business.

To show an example of a platinum open access journal I chose the journal Human-Wildlife Interactions (HWI) because, besides being an open access journal, I submitted a paper that was accepted for publication. This journal publishes all the accepted manuscripts on DigitalCommongs@USU website, which is a repository from Utah State University with the aim to provide access to research. The HWI journal is the only scientific journal that publishes topics related to professional management of human-wildlife conflicts. This journal is subscribed to The Berryman Institute, which is based in the Department of Wildland Resources at Utah State University.

According to HWI homepage, the purpose and scope of the journal is to “serve the professional needs of the wildlife biologist and manager in the arena of human-wildlife conflicts/interactions, wildlife damage management, and contemporary wildlife management.” The goal of the journal is to publish original contributions with an emphasis in reporting innovative conservation strategies, technologies, and tools that help mitigate human-wildlife conflicts; and finally, to promote a dialogue among wildlife professionals. This journal does not provide an explanation of what open access is, but in its policies, specifically where we find information about the use that authors are permitted to do without express permission from the magazine, we can find information about open access. The operational costs of this journal seem to be covered by the host Department.

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Recording devices inside VT bathrooms: a scary thing.

Today I received an email from VT Police about two recovered video recording devices found at Virginia Tech’s public bathrooms. It was scary to think that I could have used one of those bathrooms, without knowing that there was a recording device in there. This news made me wonder how often these situations happen at higher education institutions around the US. So, I did a quick search on the internet to see what I could find.

Some of my findings were that there are many cases, I choose to read only the cases that were in the first four pages of the search engine. I found 10 cases at these universities: West Chester University in Pennsylvania, UC Berkeley in California, University of Wisconsin in Waukesha Wisconsin, Wayne State University in Detroit, University of Kentucky, Indiana University, University of Iowa, University of Delaware, Capital University in Ohio, and the University of North Florida.

In all these cases, the suspects arrested for allegedly putting the devices and recording were students that were registered at those universities or former students. These cases occurred in both women’s and men’s bathroom. However, most cases (8) occurred in women’s bathrooms. These unfortunate and criminal events occurred in the recent period between 2014 and 2018. I argue that these are only the cases that are covered by the news, and that we are underestimating the magnitude of the problem because many other cases never go public. In conclusion, students must be vigilant. Have you heard before of any other case of recording devices found in bathrooms at Virginia Tech?

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An overview of misconduct cases at the Office of Research Integrity (ORI)

The Office of Research Integrity (ORI) supervises research integrity activities on behalf of the Secretary of Health and Human Services. The government invests billions of dollars in health research and development every year, that is why the supervision of all these projects is so important.

One of the purposes of the ORI is the oversight of research misconduct inquiries and investigations, and propose the appropriate administrative actions.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations, title 42 Public Health, Part 93.103, research misconduct is the “fabrication, falsification, or plagiarism in proposing, performing, or reviewing research, or in reporting research results.”

On the website of ORI, we can find a summary, per year, of all the misconduct cases that this institution investigates. I decided to check all the cases for 2018 to explore similarities and differences among cases. I accessed the website and opened each case to learn more about the specific cause, professional stage of the researcher, the institution involved, and administrative action taken by the ORI, for a general understanding of the misconduct phenomenon.

After an overview of misconduct cases, I found that the researchers involved belonged to diverse research fields and professional stages, from Ph.D. students to Professors, and at the time of the misconduct were working in prestigious research institutions. For example, some researchers worked at the NIH or at renowned medical centers and universities. This makes me wonder whether these research institutions add too much pressure to their scientists to succeed as research agencies. I know the former reason is no justification to commit misconduct, but misconduct may be a simple expression of the broken system requesting high production rates from the scientific community. Or else is it simply a lack of professional ethics on the part of researchers?

Regarding the period the administrative sanctions will remain in force, I saw a range of 1 to 10 years of penalization. I believe that the magnitude of the misconduct is associated with the period of sanctions implemented. Nevertheless, the researcher’s reputation is damage independently to the period of sanction. I wonder if early students or postdocs, just starting their scientific careers, are less or more at risk of committing misconduct? For example, established professors may be less prone to misconduct considering the years of experience and the risk to lose their jobs and ruin their reputation -i.e., they have more to lose.

I found a case in which an Eminent Professor was discovered submitting an NIH grant application that included plagiarized text. This suggests that research agencies may be using software to detect plagiarized text. Faculty should be aware of automated detection of plagiarism considering some scientists use text from their previous publications. Thus, it is crucial to reduce plagiarism and employ proper citations and references to reduce risks of misconduct accusations in grant proposals. Sometimes we do not realize the consequences of a simple mistake to save some seconds of work.

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Universities’ Mission Statements

For this assignment, my objective was to compare the mission statements of institutions of higher education to establish differences and similarities. I chose two universities located in the United States, the University of Minnesota, a state grant-land university, located in the state of Minnesota, and Syracuse University, a private university in Upstate New York.

As I expected, both universities have an emphasis in research and discovery. I found some of the same patterns explained in the Cortes-Sanchez’s article “What do universities want to be? A content analysis of mission and vision statements worldwide.” Syracuse University focuses on the student’s teaching process and success; this private university highlights their strategy to achieve this success, including global thinking, experiential learning, interdisciplinary scholarship, creativity, and entrepreneurial endeavor.

The University of Minnesota uses the term “community” three times in their mission statement and considers service and extension. One of the university’s mission is outreach and public service by making knowledge and resources accessible to the citizens and by working with them in the field to solve local problems.

Three aspects of this assessment caught my attention. First, both universities include in their mission an interest to build a diverse and creative community. Second, only the University of Minnesota aims to prepare their students for active roles in a multiracial and multicultural world. Finally, Syracuse University has a strong pride in its “location and history as a place of access, engagement, innovation, and impact.” Overall, the land-grant and private universities explored showed dissimilarities in their policies and philosophy, which may be transferred to their alumni.

Sources:

https://www.syracuse.edu/about/vision-mission/

http://regents.umn.edu/sites/regents.umn.edu/files/policies/Mission_Statement.pdf

http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/impactofsocialsciences/2017/12/20/what-do-universities-want-to-be-a-content-analysis-of-mission-and-vision-statements-worldwide/

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