Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Geology’ Category

Yes, we all know that academia is expensive. Student loans are abundant, and work study is limited. Having already earned my bachelors of science degree, I have plenty of student loans, and I never qualified for financial aid. This story is familiar to many college graduates.

But what I want to talk about in this post is the price of being a graduate student. Specifically, a graduate student in the sciences. This line of thought was spurred by two things: this article about the relationship between journalists and academics, and some recent proposed budget cuts at my university.

The point of this article is that there is a major disconnect between academics and journalists who want to write stories about academics and their research. They claim that the root of this problem stems from a highly flawed and expensive system for spreading said academic research.

“The real problem is that the primary system for disseminating academic research — through professional journals and working papers — doesn’t work for anyone but academics, and it may not even work for them. Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with… The journal system also fractures academic knowledge across dozens of different publications. It’s almost impossible to keep up with the papers being published. There’s no centralized list.”

“Professional journals are wildly expensive to subscribe to and bizarrely difficult to keep up with.” Major universities have the money to subscribe to most of these, but while doing both undergraduate and graduate research, I have had to special order specific papers and books from the Interlibrary Loan system (ILliad) – which is often problematic because you have to wait an unknown amount of time to obtain said papers and books. They are just too expensive for one university to have them all. And during the two years I wasn’t in school? No chance of looking at anything beyond the abstract because if you aren’t a student, your access to most academic research is cut off. Sure, you can pay for subscriptions, but that gets expensive fast. Academic journals aren’t like regular magazines, and their publishers know they can get away with these prices because universities will pay for them.

But shouldn’t academic research be public knowledge? Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to educate themselves and be able to keep up with the research in their field of study, long after they’ve earned a degree? I certainly think so.

Sure, it costs money to print the journals, but we all know most faculty and students are finding the research papers online these days. But do they really need to cost an arm and a leg? [Edit:] Peer reviewers aren’t paid, either, it’s something that goes toward their quest for tenure, in most cases. So why do academic journals cost so much? Knowledge is priceless, but I’m not saying academic journals need to be free, just a hell of a lot cheaper than they are.

Let’s not forget the other piece to this. Academic journal articles are indeed nearly impossible to keep up with these days. In the past few decades, the number of papers being published has increased exponentially. Based on what I’ve been told by members of the faculty in my department at my university, this is because standards have gotten lower, and expectations have gotten higher. Most PhD students are required to publish three academic papers to graduate. In order for one of those PhD graduates to become a professor, they’re expected to publish many more papers than that. Then, if and when they do become professors? They’re expected to publish several papers a year. As a result, research gets sloppy, and this is only apparent to those people paying attention in their particular field. In addition, it’s extremely difficult to stay on top of new research, which makes being a graduate student particularly difficult – we don’t want to repeat what someone else has already done. I don’t really understand how this came about, but this is the situation. Which leads me to my other favorite line in this article:

“Between the problems of the journals and the oddities of the working papers, journalists lack an easy way to follow the work of academics. That leads to the kind of frustration Kristof articulated: Journalists know that academia holds a universe of valuable information; they just can’t find a reliable way to tap it.”

I have established that the system is extremely flawed, and I don’t have a solution, but I am highly motivated to start searching for one after I earn my second degree. Perhaps I will take my blogging skills and try to bridge this gap between journalists and academics. I found the closing statement of this article inspiring:

“…it would be better if academics didn’t have to blog, or know a blogger, to get their work in front of interested audiences. That would require a new model for disseminating academic work — one that gets beyond the samizdat system used for working papers on the one hand, and the rigid journal publication system on the other. If academia was easier to keep up with, I think a lot of academics would be surprised to learn how many journalists care about their work, and I think a lot of journalists would be happy to find how much academic research can do for their stories.”

So, let’s start working on some brilliant ideas to solve this, shall we? I’d like to think a good place to start would be making education (and thereby knowledge) more accessible in this country our number 1 priority, but that is probably too ambitious.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I am attending graduate school with a teaching assistantship, which means I have to TA two classes every semester. This year, I’ve been teaching the Intro to Physical Geology Lab. So here are my three words:

I enjoy teaching.

For years I’ve been claiming that I could never enjoy teaching. It’s my primary motivation for not going after a PhD. I have an enormous appreciation for people who do teach. The world needs people like that, as many as possible. I just never considered myself one of them.

But let me be clear.

I enjoy teaching, so long as it’s geology, at the college level. I couldn’t teach children (they terrify me, and honestly I find them rather boring), or high school students (living through that experience once was enough for me). But geology is something I’m quite fond of, and rather passionate about. If I can inspire at least one student in a class to pursue geology, I consider my job well done.

I recently finished teaching our Winter Session geology 101 lab course (winter session is a 3-week intensive version of the normal semester course; the students have lab every day rather than once a week), so I thought I would write this before I change my mind about how I feel about teaching (the atmosphere of the regular semester is a bit different than winter session, and yes, I’ve started writing blog posts in advance).

This new revelation could just be a result of teaching winter session. These particular students are (in general) more motivated – they don’t HAVE to be here and take a class during the month of January. It’s completely optional – but it’s a quick way to get general undergraduate requirements out of the way.

On the other hand, now that I’ve taught these labs three times, I think it’s actually pretty fun. I feel confident imparting my geology knowledge on the next generation. Sure, the vast majority of them will never think about geology again when they leave my classroom, but it’s extremely rewarding when students do well, take notes when I’m talking, and get excited when they get a question right during a test review game of “Geopardy.” (If you’re a teacher and you want to find a Jeopardy game template, www.jeopardylabs.com is great for that).

And sometimes, I manage to recruit a new geologist. Spring semester classes started a couple days ago and I happened to run into one of my students on her way to her next geology class, and she seemed pretty excited about it. Even if she’s the only student I manage to inspire during my time here, it will be worth it.

While I find I enjoy teaching geology 101 in general, there are many reasons this will not be my career path. For every great student, there is another who is completely on the other end of the spectrum. I don’t get disappointed when students try and get something wrong. What bothers me is when they don’t try at all, or when they expect me to hold their hands and take pity on them when they haven’t put in the time or effort. That’s when things get frustrating and disappointing. It’s astonishing how many students don’t want to stop for a minute and think, exercise their brains.

So, my experience with teaching for half a year has been quite the roller coaster, and my appreciation for those who choose to teach (and aren’t forced into it like I am) has grown considerably. To all those teachers out there, know that you are appreciated, truly.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts