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.

Town Hall Meeting

From the presentation of town hall meeting, I learned the different perspectives from different person. Some local residents did suffer a lot from this case such as had cancer or other serious diseases and became a little sensitive to this case. People from CACWNY all agree that good listening to the public and build relationship among different stakeholders is really important.

When we were talking about that how we construct a new system if the present one was a “bad” one, Pan mentioned that the system will naturally dead and give a new birth instead, as a cycle. I partially agree with this kind of saying. If a system keep corrupting and accumulate enough problems, it definitely will dead. But it is not necessary to happen “naturally”. Actually, if the officers from the agencies do not care about the public and connive the behavior of the TCC, TCC would make it worse by discharging more pollution to the air which probably leads to a larger percent of residents to be affected to a greater extent. Then the residents will soon be trigger by the corrupted system and take action on it. It is like to push the system to the “bad” end. The “bad” system might be overturned soon. However, if the agencies could consider for the residents by listening to their advice and reaction to this case, or by the pressure from the public and media, they might introspect to their acts and monitor the TCC to reduce their pollution. Thus, it promotes the system to move to the “good” end.

A system needs a long time to be constructed and maintained. It is really not easy to be changed simply by one or two cases. But if someone who wants to strive for his/her right or stands for the community to insist his/her moral principles, he/she will soon influences people around him/her and push things toward to a much better direction.

Keep our ethics

In today’s class, we all think about the way of how to keep our own ethics while surviving in this world. It happens everywhere and could be any time: your boss asks you to do something non-ethics. Although most people will feel uncomfortable, they still do it just because they don’t want to lose their job or they will not feel guilty. Most time they only break a small rule which seems would not trigger any negative impact at first. However, they will find that they are involved in a big case later which will induce serious consequence in the future. As the result of a serious of non-ethics behaviors which based on the former wrong choice, people who are trusting to luck already could never be out of the affair. I am wondering if one day their boss is sued by the non-ethics behavior and they will be responsible for the case as they are the direct actor, whether they will choose to do the “wrong” thing at the very beginning.

On the other hand, there are still many people will choose to say “no” to their boss when they feel what they do will break their moral standards. For example, when my Chinese advisor just began his career as associate professor, he joined in a big group following a famous professor to obtain experiences. As he gradually get to know more in this group, he found the moral standard of the professor was so different from him. My advisor finally decided to leave this group until he was asked to make money from providing basic technical knowledge to cooperative universities or institutes. My advisor did experience a long time of difficulty as he needed to apply for research funding without a powerful backup and he also got a problem of his promotion because of the “betray” to that professor. However, he never regret of his behavior and keep insisting his ethics standard and the way of treating people. Although some one feel he is unwise, my advisor had a lot of good friends both from food industry and our university support his research and respect him. Last year, he was promoted to professor and receives a new funding from a national project.  

It is not easy to insist one’s ethic/moral standard without losing the job. However, we still could find a way survive in this society by following our heart.

Patenting human genes?

Should we patenting human genes? In my opinion, it is better to patenting human cells or cultures rather than genes. As genes are the basic component of all the creatures which are just like the basic chemical atoms of all the objects, they are form the “warehouse” of the whole human beings. In this phase, genes are public and could be shared by all the people. However, cell that derived from these genes could have millions of ways of arrangement and thus make up various cells and cultures. Each of them is specific and unique in this world such as Henrietta Lack’s cancer cell, which is still the only immortal human cell in this world. It may not be worth to patent every people’s cell. But when refers to a cell that has a significant contribution to research as well as a large business benefit just like HeLa cell, I think it is worth to patent and memory it.

Also, human derived from their cell are reasonable to own their cells. Nevertheless, if people authorize the researchers to use their cells/genes for research through consent form, then the scientists also have the right to hold their cells. What’s more, the consent form should clear that weather the cells are given voluntarily or paid by charge. But if the cells will be used for business benefits or further research that is not included in the former consent form, the researchers or any other responsible organization should let their stakeholders know and sign the consent form for further use.

In addition, I think the Lackses should be compensated for Henrietta’s cells. Since the doctors took the cultures of Henrietta for research without asking, it is difficult to say that weather Henrietta would like to donate her cells to the science as the colored people were not treated fairly that time. Furthermore, her children now ask for the compensation for their mother’s cells and they represent the Lacks and their mom in law. Thus, I think the Henrietta’s children should get compensation which include their health insurance that directly correlate with this case.

respect the life

What is your feeling if one of your family member’s cell is immortal and widely used in science? This is the first question I think about when reading “the immortal life of Henrietta Lacks”.

For me, I will be proud of this family member since his/her cells have a such important contribution to science, including developing new vaccines, studying on certain disease and saving people’s lives. In addition, the cells which are also part of his/her body could be immortal in this world make me feel it is kind of commemoration, like this people never leave us. However, when I read the first part of this book, I found the family of Henrietta was very angry about the cells were used by science and they did not want to talk about anything about Henrietta and her cells at all. I was curious about the reason and their thinking until I learned what happened on Henrietta since she went to John Hopkins.

It is the way of treating colored patients by doctors that time. At first, Henrietta signed a form before any treatment: “I hereby give consent to the staff of The Johns Hopkins Hospital to perform any operative procedures and under any anaesthetic either local or general that they may deem necessary in the proper surgical care and treatment”. It is a little horrible when reading this sentence. It sounds like sacrifice agreement rather than treatment agreement. This form seemed to be designed for asking for people’s lives rather than saving them.

 And soon, the horrible dream came true. The doctors “burned” Henrietta by laser for killing the cancer cells. Although Henrietta kept telling doctors about her pain many times, the medical record still be wrote that “no evidence of recurrence” and they continued using laser to “burn” Henrietta until nothing could help her except analgesics. This is the reason made Henrietta’s family believed that the white doctors were doing experiments on colored patients in hospital. They believe that the doctors burned Henrietta to dead. The lists of Henrietta’s medical history in Page 16 also showed that colored people was afraid of doctors and hospital even they had various diseases.  

I have the same question with Rebecca that “what will happen if Henrietta is a white people? Is she will be recovery by the careful treatment and check at the early stage of the cancer”? I think the doctors in Hopkins did not treat Henrietta seriously and professionally, just like they take her cells without asking. I also doubt the dose of laser on Henrietta was part of the experiment that what amount of laser could kill cancer cells safely. At that time, the way of dealing with colored patients by white doctors may be even worse than how the scientists treat animals today. It really cost a lot before every scientist or doctor to learn how to respect the life today and each of us should put it on the first place when doing research.