The idea of doing some research that I’m extremely interested in is still very appealing to me. It’s just that…I don’t want to do the PhD to get there, and it may not really be necessary. Like in the Nature article, there are ways to get involved in research at the entry or mid-level. I just won’t be able to be a Principal Investigator (PI) on any grant proposals.
And I’m glad of it! Being a PI comes with great expectations and responsibilities. You are tasked with accomplishing the Great and Many things that you promised in the proposals, and at the same time you have to stay within The Budget. Then you have to get your work published in High Impact Journal A or High Impact Journal B, and then compete with peers all over again for more funding.
Not to mention, when you exit with your PhD, your options are both limited and wide-ranging at the same time. Limited in that you probably won’t want to settle for something that pays less or doesn’t acknowledge your Killer Skills or Awesome Expertise. And you do come out an expert…in a very very very specific area, which in turn may lead to more limitation. Your options are wide-ranging in the way that you could go to many different places in the world, granted that there are people who want you on their team. But even that seems to ultimately be somewhat limiting, because jumping from place to place is not conducive to the paper-publishing feedback-loop of a career of the PhD.
I’m not bashing on PhDs, or the system (though it seems very flawed). I’m just saying here, out loud, finally, that I’ve changed my mind and it isn’t for me. I’ve got my Masters, and that might be enough. Who knows, maybe I’ll change my mind, but I’m not going to feel bad about this choice or any other subsequent choice. I’m not 100% sure where I’m headed now, but I’m excited about figuring it out and going with wherever it takes me.
Whew! That was a load off! I hope I haven’t disappointed you.
[Originally posted May, 15, 2009]
(This semester our class had the opportunity to have Adam Bly of Seed Media Group as a guest speaker. I asked him his opinion on the role of education in scientific literacy, specifically for the piece I wrote and posted here earlier. The following is the response he sent me. Thanks Adam!)
At the heart of how I feel about science education is the idea that science should be used as a lens through which to look at the world, not just a subject to be taught. And further; science education goes on forever and should be available to everyone.
We live in a world where we now produce more information in a year than in all prior human history combined. Graduating college no longer means you know the essentials of your field. Fields merge and change with new data. Walls between scientific disciplines are torn down. Education must run parallel with any successful pursuit of a profession. We now see universities cater to this new reality. Many universities offer their course material for free. It’s a great model. What the universities can still offer exclusively to their paying students, is valuable access to professors and a network of other students.
But the bigger picture in my view of science education is a scientifically literate nation. That’s the goal. To have a population that understands scientific concepts and processes is more crucial to the progress of our country, than churning out a certain number of scientists and engineers.
In order to translate this ideal to the classrooms, teachers and anyone else in charge of shaping curriculums, must acknowledge science as a prime driving force in society. The teaching of natural sciences should be as actively connected to and engaged in current events and advancements as the social sciences are. Science education needs to be connected to science news.
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Today I started reading news in Google Reader, and came across 2 topics that I wish could just find a way to meet up. They have to do with getting widespread behavior and mentality change to happen and funding for political campaigns/issues. That may not sound like they can be connected, but just read on!
The first article is titled “Misperceived Paths to Energy Savings” from the Dot Earth blog on the New York Times. It that talks about a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The researchers surveyed regular people and found that they generally do not have the right idea about what the most effective ways to save energy are, when compared to what is recommended by experts. The best ways to increase energy savings, according to this study, are efficiency improvements, rather than usage curtailment. (Though both may be necessary, in my opinion.)
I think what they are trying to stress here is that people have the idea in their heads that if they just turn the lights off when not in use or drive a little less, that that will be enough to make a major difference, that they can “do their part” in these small ways. While these behavioral changes are good and great, there really isn’t much of a change in mentality or understanding of the deeper issues. There is still a self-centered approach to those activities, whereas more significant action would take more significant effort (i.e. buying more efficient light bulbs, appliances, water heaters, cars, etc.; insulating your home).
The NY Times journalist suggests that this study is a sign that the US needs to invest more in energy literacy in order to make a dent in the wasted energy and avoidable carbon emissions related to energy use.
The next article I would like to bring into this discussion is about Proposition 23 in California. You can find the second article here at Grist. Prop 23 opposes the climate change legislation in California, and is supported by big oil companies from other states such as Texas. The campaign against Prop 23 also has big backers, such as environmental groups, tech companies in Silicon Valley, and other companies. All in all, there are several millions of dollars going into the campaigns on both sides.
I won’t get started on how unrestricted lobbying could possibly be one of the big reasons why our local and federal governments continue to fail on important fronts, because that would be too much of a tangent. But I couldn’t help thinking, what if they took those millions of dollars going into campaigning and actually put it into informative programs on the ground to address issues like energy efficiency? Maybe it wouldn’t even take that much seed money to get something going, because apparently home energy efficiency is a booming business.
Now, I’m not actually suggesting to take the money out of the No on Prop 23 campaign, but what if every group that invested in the campaign matched with an investment into an energy literacy program? Rather than only putting money into TV and radio ad campaigns that may not increase the general public’s understanding of climate change legislation but confuse people more?
I do not wish to resign to the idea that people are mindless and believe whichever campaign had the most funding and was therefore more prominent. Maybe I don’t understand enough about what is going on. I admit that I sometimes do not understand why people are such adamant deniers of climate change.
In any case, the point is that there really isn’t enough effort or funding going into informing the masses and this could potentially be an innovative way to raise funds and awareness. I would really like to see a lot of things become part of general knowledge, like climate change and evolution, which really deserved to be a part of general knowledge decades ago.
Watch the Food Network for a few hours of programming and count up the number of times a healthy eating habit is promoted. You won’t count very high.
Even with over 50% of the U.S.’s adult population overweight or obese (Wikipedia citation), healthy food and eating is on the backburner for the Food Network. As the premiere food oriented channel on basic cable, the Food Network should be more concerned with being the leading resource for good eating and lifestyle habits that can shape the country’s dietary future.
Image credit: Flickr user wallyg
I have been watching the Food Network a lot these past few weeks, and one thing seems to bother me incessantly about their programming. It is greasy, sugary, fatty, and generally unhealthy! Now, I don’t think we should tend towards the fanatic side of “nutritionism,” but more like eating less processed foods and more whole foods cooked in less grease.
A quick rundown of the shows (This is by no means a comprehensive study or accurate list of statistics. It is just an estimate from data I have gathered from viewing experience and online perusing.):
# fatty, meaty shows = 8
# sugary = 6
# of hosts who are overweight = at least 6
NONE of the primary programs have health themes
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While doing this internship with Greenanswers.com, I’ve come across many, many questions that I find to be quite ridiculous. Sometimes, it made me wonder what kinds of people are posting questions on this website, and if they ever received any basic understanding of science from their schooling. I don’t mean to be offensive by saying this, but it just boggles my mind that there is a huge number of these types of questions being posted on the website.
Disclaimer: I don’t have anything against the actual website, but the types of questions that populate it. I think that the greenanswers.com people are trying to do a great thing and I’m glad that a site like this exists. I had a great experience working with them and often enjoyed answering questions. I look forward to the future development of the site and will go back to check it out often.
Of the ridiculous questions, here are some of my all-time favorites (mostly from the past two weeks):
• If nature is so smart, why can’t it take care of global warming?
• Why does it get so dark at night?
• What is the best meal for the environment? Breakfast, lunch or dinner?
• Has there ever been proof of dragons? (This was posted under the Mammals section.)
• Are pancakes greener than waffles?
• Self powering energy, is it possible?
• What is the difference between a sun and a moon?
• What is the crop that is essential to human life?
• How long does the West Coast last?
• How are we going to get poor nations to make green changes to their way of life?
• Why don’t more people view soil as a non-renewable resources? Is it because they are dirty?
• From the environmental perspective, is there any need for the United States Postal Service?
• Does a tree scream?
• Is grass the ultimate survivor?
The main issues that I have with these questions are that Continue reading →
No, not in a balloon in a slingshot. Just in a slingshot.
Creator of the Segway, Dean Kamen, has come up with a device that can purify water and he calls it the Slingshot. This CNN article goes into detail about the inventor and the invention. The small machine takes up the space of a typical sized drinking water fountain. Check out the images on their page for a better idea of what it is.
The device works by “vapor compression distillation,” which probably means that it heats up the item containing water thereby vaporizing the water, compresses the vapor and distills it. He has stuck things in it like raw sewage, ocean water, and river water. Anything that has moisture would work. The Slingshot probably works so well because it can isolate the water molecules from everything else.
The problem is that it still costs several hundred thousand dollars to make one Slingshot. Kamen is hopeful, though, that after more engineering they can get the price down to $2,000.
At that price, more people could possibly afford it. The current model can supply 250 gallons a day, which he estimates is enough for 100 people. It might become part of a new water fountain system at a school, or be the central filtration system for a small village or apartment building.
Whatever it is, it is an invention that has the potential to change many lives. It would bring us one step closer to closing the resource usage cycle and living sustainably.
Flickr user au.st.in