Posts Tagged ‘Science Education’

Popularize this !

August 6, 2010

In one of his latest posts, Doug Natelson brings up a thorny issue for condensed matter physicists, namely: what makes it so difficult to render palatable to the general public this area of research, which so many of us find not only scientifically compelling and intellectually fascinating, but also genuinely fun ?
Why is it that it is far more common for someone with no physics or science background, to have at least heard about string theory, the Hubble space telescope, the human genome project or global warming, than it is for that person to have some vague idea of, say, what a superconductor is, or why a solid melts as the temperature is raised, or even what holds atoms and molecules together to make a solid ?


On jobs and papers

June 7, 2010

A few commenters took issue with a contention that I made in my latest post, namely that publications matter very little, when it comes to the fortunes of science doctoral degree holders seeking employment in industry. It is the opinion of some that, in fact, many a potential industrial employer will raise eyebrows over the lack of publications on the CV of an applicant with a PhD in a scientific discipline — alternatively, having published the type of peer-reviewed research articles that constitute the backbone of one’s scholarly portfolio, may also significantly enhance that person’s marketability for industrial positions, most of which feature no substantial research component and/or do not specifically target PhDs in the applicant’s field (or in any of the Science and Engineering disciplines, for that matter).
One of the arguments seems to be that, since there is an expectation of publication of doctoral graduates in the sciences, lack thereof is often perceived as a sign of overall applicant mediocrity.


Internet and the demise of academe

September 18, 2009

A recent article in The Big Money (from Slate) rehashes a prediction that many have been making over the past decade.
The growth of online universities, offering courses that can be taken where and when it is convenient, leading toward accredited degrees, at a fraction of the price for the same degree at a conventional university, will soon lead to the disappearance of the traditional college experience. Universities, with their campuses, highly paid deadwood, er, professors, dormitories, schedules, classrooms, fraternities, sororities, partying and football teams, may soon become a relic of a time past.


On deadwood

September 1, 2009


The claim of a widespread incidence of “deadwood” in academia has always been popular, not only with the general public (largely comprising individuals who are not really familiar with academia), but also within academia itself, especially among graduate students, postdoctoral associates and even (less frequently) faculty and administrators. I myself, when I was a postdoc, was convinced of the reality and seriousness of the problem.


Two-tier university system ? No, thanks

August 27, 2009

I was going to post my thoughts on this subject, but then I read this editorial by Carleton University President Roseann O’Reilly Runte, and I feel that I really have nothing else to add to what she says. I completely agree with her, even though, as a faculty at one of the institutions that would stand to benefit from the creation of a two-tier university system in Canada (background here), the proposed change would probably serve me well.


A world with no tenure

August 18, 2009

Why Santa must be a tenured faculty:
His job is for life.
He works one day a year.
He travels all over the world, presenting work done by others and taking credit for it.

In her latest post, Professor in Training (PiT) indulges in the favorite pastime of us academics, namely academia-bashing. Blogosphere abounds of that; one day it is widespread sexism, the next is rampant abuse of graduate students by professors, the next is the proliferation of inactive professors who, as they enjoy the unlimited protection (read: impunity) given to them by academic tenure, according to PiT spend essentially their entire career “refus[ing] to do any more work or actively try[ing] to undermine the efforts of others until retirement”.



August 9, 2009

It is difficult these days to go through calls for research proposals from government agencies, and not see at least some emphasis on “interdisciplinary research” (IR), i.e., research centered on a project or theme involving a collaboration among scientists of different backgrounds. IR is the focus of a growing number of scientific journals (see, here, for instance), including some with a clearly stated intellectual affiliation to one specific discipline (see, for instance, this one).
Interdisciplinarity is also the darling of university administrations, eager to establish new curricula of studies, aimed at imparting broad (if perhaps less in-depth) knowledge of science, spread across several of the traditional fields as opposed to focused on one of them.


On academic service

February 11, 2009

Being a college professor, especially at a research university, is a privilege. Faculty position openings are few and far between, and the number of qualified candidates high. The situation can be quantitatively assessed, for example, by the number of applications that are routinely received for tenure-track faculty positions in the United States, essentially at any major research universities (and even at four-year colleges with lesser emphasis on research).
Since it is a privilege, the relatively few of us who are lucky enough to have that kind of a job, have a moral duty to honor it, by keeping high standards and by engaging primarily in those activities that pertain directly to the basic mission of our institutions, namely research and teaching.
Any undertaking on the part of a faculty, not clearly classifiable as part of either research or teaching and/or not directly impacting either, should be therefore regarded as in principle extraneous to the scope of the profession — not part of the overall motivation put forward (e.g., to taxpayers) when seeking support for higher education.


The end of graduate course requirements

January 18, 2009

What is exactly the purpose of graduate course work ?
Post-graduate education, in just about every university system, places most of its emphasis on research over course work, for very good reasons. Much like knowing the recipe by heart does not make one able to cook a sophisticated dish, re-hashing for years textbook material and solving countless exercises of ungodly difficulty (physics graduate students reading this will immediately think of our nemesis) does not enable one to do science. The one and only way to learn how to do research, is doing research.

In layman terms

January 3, 2009

Though it was supposed to be a work-free holiday, and even though no internet connection is available there, during my recent vacation to Cuba (yay) I could not avoid spending some time working (mostly in the evenings and/or early in the mornings — depending on how many mojitos I had the evening before).