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Education as a commodity/ hypercritical etc.

Dr. Paula J. Schlax pjschlax at JHUVMS.HCF.JHU.EDU
Thu Nov 20 13:38:09 EST 1997

A few thoughts on a few threads. 

- Students don't read. Not even the lab manual. They do the prelab in
hall before lab etc.

I have a suggestion, and I think it would work (and make the teacher
unpopular. Students should be allowed to bring prelabs and their lab
notebooks to lab with them, however, their manuals must stay out of lab.
Students are supposed to know, before entering lab what each step will
be- the amount of time they waste looking up the next step (which says
meanwhile, prepare X while Y dries) puts them way behind.  Prepared
students seem to leave lab 30 minutes or more earlier than unprepared
students.  Imagine, if everyone was prepared, you could actually
some results and possible interpretation before people left......

I asked my students what their favorite book was as a final exam extra
credit question...... I have seen required reading of the Lives of the
Cell, The Double Helix etc. in courses, and even requirements of book
reports. I think all are great ideas.

-Journal clubs just look at papers (and reviewers too)  to find the

I think one stage of becoming a scientist is learning to spot the
missing controls, the missed assumption or the alternative, (TESTABLE)
model.  The next stage is to recognize the value in what is present, and
to constructively suggest what else could be considered. Most undergrads
don't get the chance to learn to criticize models and data- they don't
have the breadth of knowledge or experience yet- so I think, especially
in Journal club, students are very amazed that they find a flaw and they
are very proud, so they lose focus of the big picure (Okay- that gel
doesn't completely fit with the one in the other fuigure, but the main
point is valid!) It is right to criticize the inconsistancies in papers,
but don't lose sight of the main arguments.  The main argument may be
wrong- but the important things to question are whether the data are
consistent with the model presented, and whether other data which
already exist are inconsistent with the model presented.  

- Defense Drama

I can only speak of y own experience, but my defense was great. It was a
detailed discussion of my work. I was asked to justify my analysis,
interpretation and motivations, and finally to extrapolate what I
learned (if possible) to other systems.  It was one of the first times I
felt as if I was discussing science with my peers instead of my mentors.
I felt like my opinion was valued.  I hope that Julia's defense follows
that model rather than the one she fears. One friend I had did a prety
crummy job writing the thesis. This person wasn't chided, but the
advisor was sorely criticized for letting the person defend. 

-Student Ethics

I really want the chance to be able to teach students that science is a
collaborative effort (even when there is competition).... There is value
in having some labs where students need to get the "right" number, and
show that they can do experiments, but there should be a lot more labs
where students are required to synthesize what they are learning.  My 
best chem prof would give us oral quizzes on things tangentially related
to lab.  While making aspirin, he asked a friend whether caffeine in
coca cola, or aspirin affected migraines more.  He was not looking for a
right answer, he just wanted us to think. How does the pH meter work? We
all should have known it, but almost none of us did off hand... Students
are grade driven, there is grade inflation and students are not always
as prepared to learn as we'd like..... We can't give up trying to excite
the desire to learn.....

Grad classes.

University of Wisconsin requires grad students to have a minor outside
of their area of study. 9-12 credit hours (3-4 classes). I think its a
great idea. I am not sure that Journal clubs or seminars can count, but
perhaps they can. I got to know a lot of bacteriologists (I am a
chemist) and it was boatloads of fun! More importantly, it did give
breadth as well as depth to the PhD- something I appreciate more every
day as I apply for jobs.  

Lots of topics, thanks for reading. I am glad people got motivated (even
negatively) about student ethics....

Paula Schlax

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