Additional Blog Post

This has been my first semester teaching a microbiology lab at Virginia Tech to undergraduates, so I wanted to use this blog post to reflect on this experience and the ways that I believe it has also made me a better student.

The first day that I was in front of my class I felt incredibly unprepared and under-qualified to be in that position. After all, these students had just paid thousands of dollars to be in those seats and listen to the material that I was about to share with them. It took a week or two before I noticed that when I started my lectures, the nerves that had been so prominent at the start were no longer there. Throughout my own classes this semester, I noticed that I was also a lot calmer and more confident when presenting my own projects. This bi-weekly experience with public speaking to my class was gradually making me a better presenter outside of the classroom as well. Even though I’m not planning on being a professor in the long run, there will be times when I am responsible for the education of others throughout my career. I believe that teaching this lab has given me a noticeable change in comfortability when it comes to public speaking, a better control over managing individuals in a large group setting, and easily troubleshooting the non-stop issues that arise in an undergraduate lab setting. I found a few articles that also spoke about the benefits of teaching during higher education and how it can improve our own studies, which really solidified my belief that teaching is an invaluable asset when it comes to working through our own studies as graduate students.

Why graduate students should teach

Teaching While Learning in Graduate School



Future of the University

One issue that I believe needs to be addressed in higher education is the shift in focus from providing an education to becoming more business-like, specifically with the overall cost of tuition. The cost of tuition has been following a trend of inflation (8%) that increases substantially faster as the general inflation rate (1.7%). So why have tuition rates been increasing at a rate that isn’t sustainable? A large part of why I think this could be is the focus of universities to a more business-like structure. Students and the fees that they are paying have turned into customers with their tuition being used to sustain their education, but not typically enhance it. Instead, it’s being spent on things that aren’t really necessary, such as the largest drone enclosure in North America. Meanwhile, students are still living in dorms that need renovated, overcrowded dining halls, and classes that have been overbooked.

This interview of Christopher Newfield, author of The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them, made some points that I found interesting and agreed with. Mainly, politicians see this issue and hear from their constituents the argument for a completely free education, which isn’t a sustainable practice. Instead, the cost of tuition needs to be drastically reduced in order to remain sustainable while also providing funds to faculty and staff to continue their work. Providing equal access to education at a reduced cost should be a primary goal for the future of higher education.

Technology and Innovation Blog Post

Technology is a massive part of higher education in the modern world, but the way that it is incorporated decides whether it is effective at educating others or only serving as a distraction. Before speaking about this article, I wanted to comment on one of my first experiences with laptops being included. In high school our classes were given carts that contained Chromebooks. They were incredibly slow and most of the exercises we did would likely have been easier and more effective to do on paper. Since then, technology has drastically improved and can likely be held responsible as the only reason that the world was able to function during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This article argues the pros and cons of having technology in the classroom, but I tend to lean more towards their opinion that it is beneficial. Having access to a computer during a lecture provides a wealth of information that students can access as well as take notes. I personally have a class this semester where my professor will bring up a topic that we know little about and then have us research it for a few minutes before explaining it in depth. This allows us to explore the topic and find current events relating to it in real time. If done correctly, incorporating technology into a lecture can be effective at engaging students by having them respond to polls, answer questions, or follow along with provided lecture files. The arguments against technology are largely that it is just a distraction and reduces the ability to pay attention, but I would argue that if a student wants to pay attention to the material then they would do so whether they have a computer in front of them or not. I don’t that it would be wise to ban technology from classrooms, especially because it is such an integral part of the way that students are able to absorb and retain information during this time.

Open Access Blog Post

I chose the BMC Public Health Journal, which is a part of Springer Nature, that appeared to be based out of California. One nice thing about this site is there was a page that discussed the aims, general topics, and an overall description of the journal itself. The general description is fairly self explanatory, stating that it serves the purpose of publishing peer-reviewed original articles on public health related issues. What I appreciated was the description of their aims. It states that it is an “open access, peer-reviewed journal that considers articles on the epidemiology of disease and the understanding of all aspects of public health. The journal has a specific focus on the social determinants of health, the environmental, behavioral, and occupational correlates of health and disease, and the impact of health policies, practices and interventions in the community.” It then goes on to explain below this that it makes any publication “freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication.” Any author that grants publication of their articles on this site are considered copyright holders that grant the use and dissemination of their work to those who may find it useful. One thing that struck me as odd with this is the processing fee of $2570 plus taxes that it charges for each article that is processed. With the purpose of this site being to make information available with no cost, it seems counterproductive to have such a high fee to get information published on it in the first place. I understand the need to have some sort of revenue in order to pay employees and maintain their company, but this seems like it would dissuade researchers from using their site. That being said, it is also mentioned that if an author’s institution is a part of their membership program then application costs are typically covered. They also have a waiver that authors can submit for reductions in fees which are granted on a case-by-case basis. While open access journals can sometimes be seen as having less stature than those that are closed due to less of a peer review process being involved, I believe that open access is a great method of information dissemination and should be continued. Withholding information from colleagues unless they pay for it should never be a first choice as we are all conducting our work with the end goal of benefiting society.

Ethics Blog Post

I chose to write my ethics blog post on the above case regarding Ya Wang, M.D., Ph.D. from Emory University. She was found to have engaged in research misconduct and misappropriation of funds from the U.S. Public Health Service, National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health, and National Institute of General Medical Sciences. Dr. Wang was also found to be reusing and relabeling data and images to represent results from a variety of experimental conditions that served to support her work. While the case summary says that she is neither admitting or denying these actions, she is taking voluntary leave from a variety of areas for at least four years and the papers published with her data are being either corrected or retracted.

After reading through the case and summarizing it above, I found myself incredibly annoyed to start. As I am currently studying public health with a focus in infectious diseases, it’s hard to believe that someone interested in the same areas at a much higher level would actually think that it is acceptable to take resources that could be used for the greatest good of a community and exploit it for personal gains. While I understand that this is the real world, a physician that is working in public health is someone who is supposed to be selfless and striving to create a safer, healthier environment within their community. Especially in research, new data and breakthroughs need to be safe for the public to use, which is impossible if they are based off of falsified data right from the start. While this may seem like a harsh verdict, I believe it would be within the ORI’s jurisdiction to prevent Dr. Wang from conducting research at all in the future. The case summary mentions that she is already retired, but is still working for the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University. That being said, I do believe that the four years leave is fair and I’m sure that Emory University will also enact strict watch over her if she does continue to conduct research. Any role in healthcare or medical research is there for the sole purpose of serving a community and working for their greater good, which is the complete opposite of what is being reported here by the ORI.

Mission Statements Blog Post

Virginia Tech Mission Statement

“Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life.”

University of Virginia Mission Statement

“The University of Virginia is a public institution of higher learning guided by a founding vision of discovery, innovation, and development of the full potential of talented students from all walks of life. It serves the commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world by developing responsible citizen leaders and professionals: advancing, preserving, and disseminating knowledge: and providing world-class patient care. We are defined by:

  • Our enduring commitment to a vibrant and unique residential learning environment marked by the free and collegial exchange of ideas;
  • Our unwavering support of a collaborative, diverse community bound together by distinctive foundational values of honor, integrity, trust, and respect;
  • Our universal dedication to excellence and affordable access.”

I chose to compare the mission statement of our own school, Virginia Tech, and the mission statement of the University of Virginia. Due to both schools having similar demographics and being located in the state of Virginia, I thought that noting the similarities and differences in their mission statements would be interesting. They are both public institutions of higher education, though Virginia Tech enrolls approximately 12,000 more undergraduate students per year. One main point that I noticed was the sweeping generalities made throughout the statement. As one would expect from a college, it is sure to mention advances in teaching, learning, and discovery as well as a variety of other commonalities. I thought that the mention of world-class patient care was an odd inclusion into the mission statement for the University of Virginia. While I am aware that they have both a nursing school and a medical school, specifying this one area seemed almost out of place, especially when they have other graduate and doctoral programs. Virginia Tech’s mission statement seemed to focus more on educational development and giving back to the community, while the University of Virginia’s statement focused more on inclusion and developing skilled individuals. I was curious as to if this difference could have had something to do with when each was written, but Virginia Tech revised theirs in 2012 and the University of Virginia in 2013. While I know that the purpose of a mission statement is to provide a general summary of the organization and its purpose, I think it would have been interesting for each university to include at least a sentence or two about how they go about working to accomplish these goals. While researching each mission statement, the webpage had additional text going into depth with other similar aspects to their mission statement, such as values that are important to the organization, ethics, and visions. These were helpful in expanding the aims of each mission statement and could have even been briefly included in the statement itself.

Starting My Blog

Hello everyone! This is the first post for the setting up of my blog for GRAD 5104, Preparing the Future Professoriate. I’m looking forward to the semester with everyone and excited to see what we’re going to learn in this course!

– Steve