Communication is important to Science

When I was young, I felt science was such a mystery to me. The things that scientists did and the words they used to explain made me feel they were so far from me. Even the first two years when I was in college, I still believe what professors doing must be some huge and complicated stuff and we were not qualified to be understood. This long-time belief was changed when I began my graduate project in a “fancy” research group in my last year in university. After the whole work, it was my first time to write abstract for a paper (my thesis). I surprised to find out that actually I can use only several sentences to describe all of my work, including the reason of choosing this subject, the method I used, the main data I collected and the conclusion and meaning of this work. Besides, when I tried to explain what I did to my mom, I found I can use a lot of simple words rather than professional terms to make it much more understandable.

In the past, scientists may only pay attention to their research and connect with their peers. But now, more and more scientists have learned that it is crucial to communicate with public, industry and other disciplinary. The result of one research can be made as a video to public and also can be presented as a poster in a conference. It is also important for scientists to connect with industry. There are multiple ways to connect industry and attract their interests on your research. For example, make a “elevator speech”. “Elevator speech” means a quick introduction of you and your research in two or three minutes, which intends to attract others’ interest in a very short time. It can be very helpful when developing network with industry people. They typically have limited time and want to obtain information as quick as possible. Hence such “elevator speech” can be an effective access to connect with industry and get funding or support from them. Finally, communicating with scientists in other disciplinary is more and more important in nowadays. No matter in academic conference or regular seminar in the department, to learn the techniques and progress of other subjects can be beneficial to extend our own research. It is common to “borrow” techniques from different fields right now. One example is in food science, chemical properties of one food can be detected by equipment such as HPLC, which is a typical chemistry technique. While when analyzing the composition and its changes along with the different processing condition, biological analysis such as protein gels can be used for this kind of study. Thus, communicating with public, industry or peers are indispensable to all the scientists to conduct a meaningful research.

Teaching is an attitude

When I was an undergraduate student and my semester was fully filled by different classes, I had thought about hundreds of tips of teaching in the case of being a teacher myself someday.  Most of these tips are summarized in this paper- “It’s the little things that count in teaching”. (http://chronicle.com/article/Its-the-Little-Things-That/141489/).

I do like the idea that the teacher should come to class a little earlier and leave some time after the class to answer questions. One of my teachers in last semester always came to class 10 min earlier to talk to students and bring different kinds of cookies to us every time. I feel much closer with this teacher and it is easy to communicate with him, talking about the difficulty and concerns about what we learn in this course. For example, I told him that writing codes often took me longer time that I thought, because I always need spend a long time to find out the bug that lead to the mistake. And the teacher told me some quick ways to check the bug, and one of them was email him and ask a help. This is a tough course for me, but I feel so encouraged during the whole semester and I do not feel any distance between me and the teacher.

What’s more, I am impressed by the saying that “always performs with as positive an attitude as possible”.  I highly agree with that the attitude from a teacher can influence or even decide the effect of learning of students.  When I was in a class which led by a negative instructor, I felt boring and depressed by his behavior such like reading the slices rather than communicating with students, inefficient in answering a question or even avoid it, and looked not confident about this course himself. On the other side, there was another instructor who was considered as one of the most popular teachers in our school. He always spoke loudly to make sure everyone can hear him clearly and was full of passion in his class. He started with several cases of success in this course from previous student’s experiences at the beginning of each semester and encouraged us to learn during the whole time. To attract our attention in the class, he told us jokes that related to his course after each section. This teacher makes me feel that learning can be a fun which leads you to your success and to learn is to pursue your dream in a happy way.

Thus, as a responsible teacher, one should set up a clear goal for their students, communicate with them regularly and listen to them, efficient organize the teaching material, try every way to keep student’s attention and passion in learning.  And, every little thing makes you big.

PhD factory

It seems the world is experiencing a PhD booming right now. Based on the demand of economic growth, many countries are building up and expanding their own higher-education system to educate more PhD and postdoctoral students.  Japan set a policy to increase the number of postdocs to 10,000 since 1990, China had 50,000 students obtained their PhD degree in 2009, United States produced about 19,733 doctoral students in life sciences and physical sciences in 2009 and this number is still keep increasing now (Cyranoski et al., 2011). However, instead of instantly economic growth, most governments are facing a problem that there is very limited working position for this quick expanding population.

It is true that the government should not encourage the expansion in higher-education without think about the according job opportunity for these highly trained students. Other than undergraduate students who had a more broad and basic background and are easily to be trained into industry, doctoral students with much more specific interest and skill have much narrower choices when searching a job position. However, the school should also think about this problem and improve their education system. Each graduate student can decide his/her own career during the study in graduate school, such as go to industry or to be a teach in the future, then the advisor can set up different educating plan according to the demand of different students.  For example, if a student wants to work in a food industry after graduation, he/she can be trained as taking food product development or attend the cooperation between food company and food department. If a student wants to be a professor in college, he/she can be trained to take research and have academic publications and try to teach in class.

On the other hand, PhD students can also develop the career opportunities themselves. I have worked in a biology institute for one year and I was surprised to find out that their secretary held a biology doctoral degree. At first I thought it was a waste of resource for a PhD student to be a secretary, but later I gradually realized that her PhD background really helped a lot on her work. Since she had related knowledge and experiences on the biology research, it was much easier for her to coordinate the resource of the institute such as the arrangement of equipment and organize academic conference. Thus, PhD students may develop their potential to different areas that related their major and create the job opportunity themselves.

 

Reference:

Cyranoski, D.; Gilbert, N.; Ledford, H.; Nayar, A.; Yahia, M.  The PhD factory. Nature. 2011, 472, 276-279.