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.

Being faculty statement

To me, the most important code to be a faculty member is to comply with the academic ethic. This includes keeping research integrity, which means never do misconduct or plagiarism in research, and do not make up data only for obtaining more publications or tenure; respecting peers when conflicting of interest; take both the academic and social responsibility when doing the research, especially when relating human or animal right; and do not intervene other’s academic freedom. Secondly, a faculty member should open up his/her mind to new technology and ideas both in their research and teaching. An instructor should be good at using new techniques to improve their teaching methods and bring new theories or ideas of related fields to their students. Thirdly, a faculty member should be diversity. Faculty should extend their work to interdisciplinary research rather than only confining to their specific area. Multicultural background will be helpful to develop one’s research and keep touching with the progress of any new emerging technology, and be easy to understand each other. Diversity also reflects on one’s ability to learn from each other, such as developing global education system. Fourthly, faculty members should be good at communication skills, which include communicating with peers, public and industry.  A successful scientist should not only have the capability to talk with their peers in the academic conference by using the professional terms, they should also can introduce their scientific results to industry for the practical application and obtain support or fundings, and also can pass on the scientific knowledge to public and educate public as extension. The last but not the least, an ideal faculty member should know how to balance their work and their life. Too much work does not guarantee a success in one’s career. If one spends too much time on their work by scarifying taking care of their family members or giving up their habits, they will only feel stressful and finally lost their passion and interest in their work. In addition, they probably will not have time to communicate with the outside world and be cut off from this world.

Everything is a remix

“Everything is a remix” is a series of very inspiring short videos. The videos introduce the idea “remix” by examples of its application in music, movie and many other fields, and further explain it as “copy, transform and combine”.

To me, the idea “remix” is very similar with the concept of research. When doing a research, the scientists need to thoroughly study the former related researches to learn the previous results and conclusions, and compare the advantage and weak points of different methods that can be used in their work. Then, the researchers “copy” the successful method and “borrow” the previous results as the bases to continue explore the certain topic.  A typical example is writing a review.  The author needs to summarize and select the results from hundreds of former researches, and then “combine” them together as a whole. In most cases, the author has to give his own conclusion or prediction after this combination thus gives them a new life.

It reminds me the concept of “Interdisciplinary Research”, which is to integrate the methodologies, techniques or ideas of different subjects. The development of science is boomed today because of the utilization and transform of technologies from other fields and combine them into one’s own research. Thus, the “remix” in science and higher education can provides a new perspective to a single subject and inspire the multiple thoughts about one topic/problem.

Chinese education VS American education

It is interesting to find out that there are a lot differences between Chinese and American education system and related culture.

It was reported that the education background of parents will influence their kids in US. Young people whose parents have taken secondary education or higher has much bigger chance (odds is 1.03) of being in higher education, while those ones whose parents have not obtained an upper secondary education has particularly small chance to go to college (odds is 0.44) (OECD, 2012). However, it is totally different from China. In China, higher education is considered very important to most of Chinese parents. Some of them take higher education as an honor and some of them believe the certificate from the college can promise a good job. Thus in China, most of parents would like to try their best to support and encourage their kids to go to the college.

Another difference is the tuition of college in China is much cheaper than in US. Although it depends on different major, the fee for most major and college is only about 1000 dollars for a year in China. However, it doesn’t mean it is cheap for most of the Chinese family and there are at least 1/3 of students who can not afford their tuition and living expense. But Chinese government has many related policy to help these students including various scholarship, working opportunities in school and student loan. What’s more, the living expense in Chinese college is also cheaper than living outside school. The fee of dorm and food in school for students is much cheaper and almost all the students choose to live in campus.

Further, the way of teaching in China is also different from US. In Chinese college, most of professors will prepare the PPT and what they talk about is closely follow the text book and their PPT. Some of the students are rarely shown up in the class, but they go back to study themselves only through text book and the notebook of their classmates, then they can obtain a good score at final exam (the only exam in the semester) at the end of the semester. However, American professors normally give a monthly exam which can help the teacher to evaluate the students and adjust the content of course. Monthly exam can also separate the pressure of the students and urge them to catch up with the class. On the other hand, the American teachers pay much more attention on the communication with their students. They always have discussion in the class and students can not only obtain knowledge and learn different ideas from their teacher but also from their classmates. But in China, we rarely have discussion in class or even group project. Students learn everything only from their teachers. Also, it is not common for students to ask questions in class since it is sometimes considered as the interruption of the class and the teachers prefer to be asked after class if they have time.

Research misconduct case of Dr. Doreian

(http://ori.dhhs.gov/content/case-summary-doreian-bryan-w)

Dr. Doreian is a former postdoctor from Department of Dermatology in Case Western Reserve University and his research is about the molecular regulation of certain disease in cell. ORI has found that he falsified numerical values in his published paper including falsified the quantification of his sample, falsified numeric value to fit his hypothesis and make up data.

In biology, many experiments need a long time to finish a whole cycle, especially when working with animal or cell samples. After injecting certain gene or components, the living cells or animals need some time to grow and they have to be kept alive for a period of time due to the observation requirement. Thus, if the experiment is failed or there are several samples are lost (animals died during the experiment), it needs a long time to do it all over again and sometimes it is even impossible to do it again. The problem is that other groups who are doing a similar work at the same may have the published paper already, which means the time and money consumed on this failed work was all gone with the wind. This probably is the reason for Dr.Doreian to lie on the number of samples used in his research. However, it never can be the excuse for the biologists to cheat on their works. Many mistakes from protocol or the design of the experiments can be avoided by doing pre-experiment or having a discussion with the experienced researchers. If a problem keeps happening in the experiment, scientists should figure out the possible solutions instead of avoiding this problem by simply making up data. It is unfair for the other peers and it is dangerous for the whole field since other researches may be based on this false results.

Also, Dr. Doreian made up data by “multiplying the experimental values by 100 to match the magnitude of the values” presented in his manuscript. This reminds me that there is another misconduct in research is falsified express the data. Sometimes in an experiment, the results are not significantly different from each other and the difference in the bar graph is not obvious. The misconduct is done by enlarge the number of coordinate to amplify the distance among samples and makes them looks like significantly different from each other. Besides, some scientists try to hit their hypothesis by misread their results and lead the conclusion to the “optimal direction”. These kinds of misconducts are as dangerous as making up data.

The reason for the misconduct in researches may be various, but the misconducting behaviors are almost all for having more published papers. It probably comes from the pressure to pursue tenure and survive in the academic world. However, when these scientists get tenure, can they correct their professional codes and never make up data which lead to the easiest way for the publications? On the other hand, if the pressure in academic works is keep increasing, can we find another way to protect the academic freedom for the young scientists? I think it is still a controversial. But scientists should establish their own professional codes and insist their principles when doing research and win the respect.

mission statement-food science

One of the mission statements I chose is from my department- Food Science and Technology: “Engaging Minds to Meet Global Food and Health Challenges”. In my opinion, it reflects the idea that a successful research or project needs to incorporate cooperation and diversity. Since the development of technology and transportation, different countries are influenced much more by each other than before. A new food product from one district may be popular in another country thousands of miles away in a short time. One can found the raw ingredient of his/her daily food is actually from the other half the earth. The global food producing line can extend and across several counties, which need close cooperation of each other. What’s more, infectious diseases such as mad cow disease may also spread very quickly around the world. This needs a much closer cooperation from different countries to find out the food infection source and make a quick response to control the food safety. On the other hand, diversity is learn from other countries or districts to find out the new technology that can improve the production efficiency, the new food or way of eating to improve the food structure or nutrition balance, the experiences of control the food safety and related disease.

Another mission statement is from our school: “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”. I like the perspective that teaching, learning and research are used for application and expand personal growth, advance social and improve the quality of life. To me, this is the essence of education. Education is not only transfer knowledge to the others, but help them to understand and explore the possibility to apply it in the real world. A successful scientist is someone who can find the problem and solve it. So transferring the knowledge from the book into the application in our world is my goal to teach and learn.