15 February 2010

My Five Year Plan

I realize that I'm going to have to graduate eventually. I assume that I will teach eventually on a collegiate level. With any luck, I'll land a tenure track position somewhere and get busy making undergraduates love science.

My five year objectives include:

1. Developing a course on evolution that moves beyond a presentation of the scientific evidence. The greatest weakness that I see today in the teaching of evolution at the college level is that it doesn't deal head-on with the social, political, and religious attacks against it. We teach kids the principles and expect them to connect the dots. I am convinced that it takes more effort than most kids are willing to invest to connect those dots and thus, most strict science-based courses on evolution fail to make any real inroads into the public controversy surrounding this "hot topic". I hope to develop a course that teaches those scientific principles, but also details the way evolution has informed other branches of science, especially medicine, and to dispel some of the most popular social, political and religious arguments against evolution. Until the majority of people understand what evolution is and is not, unless scientists can use that understanding to adequately address false arguments against it, science will continue to flounder, people will continue to see their faith as a viable alternative to "accepting" scientific evidence, and our country will continue to fall behind the rest of the world.

2. Helping undergraduates take the bold step into adulthood and personal responsibility. This means I will be understanding but I will not coddle them. I will not be swayed by lame excuses that seem to cloud the otherwise competent thinking of many professors I've seen. I will demand and reward excellence as well as personal responsibility. It is my ardent desire that any student who fails to perform well in my courses will not see ME as the problem, but rather their own behavior.

3. Creating meaningful, exploration-based labs for any course I teach. I have taught more labs than I care to mention that depend on tired high-school level rote experimentation (if one even dares to call it that). If we are to make students critical thinkers and skeptics, we need to challenge them to think critically and be skeptical. Handing them a lab exercise that has only one possible outcome is not the way to achieve this. It is my belief that any course with a lab has a responsibility for that lab session to be interesting and advance the course objectives. If we aren't going to do something worthwhile, we shouldn't waste our own time or that of students. Those times that I was given a chance to develop lab activities, the response was always positive. I think it IS possible to harness the creative juices of graduate assistants. Give them some rope and let them lasso a new approach.

4. Find new, meaningful research avenues. I know that I am hamstrung in this effort now by virtue of this not being a particular strength of my mentors and department. But I hope to be able to foster that in myself and through my colleagues. I would like to collaborate on big picture projects that are cross-disciplinary in nature.

5. I see myself becoming more politically active/outspoken regarding scientific issues. Not that I'm slouching on that now.

6. I would like to begin to reach out to the general public through writing when possible to advance public understanding of science.

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