Can sport teach science about excellence ? – 2

Can we create a training program for science ?

In sport, there are specific skills and it is fairly easy to create related training drills for improvement. Plus, sports don’t usually dramatically change in a short time. Hockey players don’t suddenly have to learn how to swim. But scientific research techniques are always mutating. My mad wet lab skills from 2003 are probably obsolete for 2011. What skills would we want to improve in a training program ?

Many people have written about the skills needed as a scientist, including those who contributed to this post at the  PostDoc Forum. My quick list :

  • critical thinking and planning skills to develop good research questions
  • good hands to do the work
  • writing skills to communicate the work
  • teamwork/people skills to collaborate and manage staff
  • excitement to keep going (drive)
  • work ethic to show up even when it sucks (discipline)

As you can see, most of the list is about talent but those are the things that can be improved. The drive and discipline are internal but we may be able to help students find ways to cultivate these traits.

How do you set up a training program for these skills? Is it math and engineering competitions? Science fairs? Doing experiments like the elementary students who published their work on bees?

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Can sport teach science about excellence ?

Science knowledge has improved sport performance in many ways. New training and recovery programs plus advances in equipment have led to new heights of achievement. Is it time for science to learn from sport?

When I was considering grad school, a mentor told me:

A working scientist needs to be 2 of these 3: smart, lucky, and hardworking. A successful scientist works hard and is smart enough to create luck by recognizing opportunities.

I remembered this conversation when talking with my friend who is a professional hockey player about his career. He said that to get to the NHL, a player needs: talent, discipline, drive, and the support from family and friends. Success in hockey sounds a lot like success in science – could science take lessons in training from hockey?

Career Journeys in Hockey and Science

In Canada, there is a ‘farm system’ of hockey. Players with talent are recognized early and given opportunities to play in competitive leagues. As they progress, the options require more dedication and many players leave home in their early teens to play for the best teams. Scouts for pro hockey watch these leagues for talent and some players will enter various junior leagues where NHL teams recruit players.

Do you see any parallels with science training? We work hard and there are drop-outs at each stage (BSc, MSc, PhD, post-doc, etc.) plus many of us go to new cities to train. A few will become a tenured professor. As in hockey, many are happy to step down at an earlier stage, using their skills in related careers.

While talking with my hockey friend, I was stuck by the support of the community in his childhood training. Should we do something similar for budding scientists?

Moving beyond ‘interest in science’

There are many programs to spark an interest in science. I’ve been involved in several programs over the past decade and am a big believer in outreach programs. But many of these programs are too limited – they initiate excitement or students complete one challenge but there isn’t long term support. Students who have an interest may have nowhere to go with this excitement.

Why is pregnancy stigmatized in academia ?

A fellow female scientist recently asked me to have lunch. But, she was insistent that our rendezvous point be located in a restaurant several blocks from campus. In an attempt to give her the benefit of the doubt, I tried to reason that she was sick of the cafeteria food, which is quite understandable. But, I knew full well that the news she was to deliver was that she was to deliver.

It was a hush hush conversation and when I see her on campus, we always move to a remote-ish location as to keep our voices out of earshot. Apparently, it would be bad for her peers to learn of the embryonic incubator that is her womb. But why is this the case? She is not the only scientist I know who had gone through great lengths to “hide” her pregnancy until it was impossible.

I just don’t get it. A (wanted) pregnancy is supposed to be celebrated, not frowned upon. While I can understand the desire to hold off on making the big announcement until the second trimester when the chance of miscarriage is significantly reduced, I don’t understand the negative association. Even I felt weird and guilty when letting my boss know that I would be growing a fetus inside of my body and I am all gung ho about female reproductive rights, etc., etc., etc.

Perhaps I am being superficial or self-righteous, but feeling the need to hide a pregnancy based on a fear that it will affect your credibility is just plain stupid. And it just seems like these feelings can often be traced back to some dickhead with a lot of seniority and a “traditional” belief system.

That’s all I got with this one. If you can weigh in with your experiences, feel free. I am interested in hearing how others have experienced this issue.

Short annotations about librarians

On a lark the other day I clicked on the tweets from some my most recent blog posts. I noticed a lot of non-librarians on the tweet activity. This is great – it was part of the reason I decided to blog on the Science 3.0 site and is a great example of John Dupuis’ concept of stealth librarianship in action.

So I got to thinking – perhaps many of these people wouldn’t know much about us from a few blog posts, tweets, Slideshare presentations, and bio information in Linked In. This is assuming, of course, that all of us use these tools, which we don’t.

So in the spirit of the great independent movie, 32 Short Films about Glenn Gould, here’s a little more about our quirky profession. (Annotations, if you don’t see them often, are the hallmark of our profession. We use them all the time, whether they’re really needed or not.)

1. We have a lot of strong opinions about ebooks and how they should be made available. (#hcod)

2. Many of us have dumped out a bag of M&Ms (or animal crackers, or Hershey’s assorted miniatures) and analyzed the different constituents by size / frequency of occurrence/intactness.

3. To entertain ourselves we may repeat the exercise in #2 as often as necessary with other items or later with a different bag of the same food.

4. We will meet at any time, for any reason, distribute minutes and then at the next meeting discuss them again, in case anyone has any questions.

5. We will find a way to create a form for anything, no matter how minor the information needed.

6. We will find a way to make discussion of editing/updating said form last for an entire meeting.

7. We will find a way to never stop using said form, just in case the information is needed in the future.

8. If there are more than three of us in a room and there is document at hand, one or more in the group will be making wordsmithing corrections simultaneously.

9. If said wordsmithing activity is occurring, at least one conversation will discuss the placement of Harvard commas, punctuation within quotation marks, and how to handle a quotation with a grammatical error.

10. In said discussions in #9, there will strong opinions on each conversation and part of the meeting will be needed to make a compromise on usage.

To all the teachers – tribute

Through the years of education, students have had encounters with countless instructors that all have the same objective, to teach. With this colossal responsibility comes the satisfaction of actually making an impression on our lives. For me, I made my encounter at a later age and it was this year with my eleventh grade chemistry teacher, Mr. Garbarino. Submissively, this young man has instilled values and morals in me and a new way to look at life. He truly has influenced me in a positive way.

Entering junior year with high expectations, I was immediately doomed when I realized in fact how hard chemistry was. With science being my weakest subject, I was failing the class quicker than ever. As soon as I brought my problem to Mr. Garbarino’s attention, he made himself very available to help and aided me in getting my grades up, but more importantly, understanding the material. By taking such an extra step in making sure that I was passing and doing well in this class, he showed me to never give up on a goal. When I understood something, I understood it, all I needed was a little help. Having such an easygoing attitude, Mr. Garbarino made it impossible for me to ever worry about failing again. I look at this situation in a greater sense. In life when things go wrong without rhyme or reason you cannot just let it defeat you and that be the end of it. You must stand up on your own two feet and make things go right. If you have enough dedication and perseverance to succeed, you will.

Family : Science Analogy Friday – Trying to figure it out

There are certain biological processes that are so important that organisms, including us, have evolved several back up plans in the event that one of these processes breaks.  A prime example of one of these critical mechanisms is cholesterol metabolism.  Because maintaining cholesterol levels at a homeostatic set point is so vital, cholesterol metabolism is regulated at multiple levels, including its synthesis, transport, storage, uptake, and removal from cells.  In our lab, we look at how cholesterol is transported within the cell, specifically examining the role of an individual protein transporter during this process.  However, I can list in one breath at least ten other cholesterol transporters in the cell.

This level of redundancy often makes it very difficult to ascertain the precise role of a single cholesterol transporter.  The best example of this involves a class of cholesterol transporters called oxysterol binding proteins or OSBPs.  In yeast, there are seven OSBP and in order to significantly alter cholesterol transport, you have to mutate all of them at once!   However, sometimes you can get lucky, as was seen with the deletion of a functional NPC1 gene in mice.  NPC1 encodes a cholesterol transporter that, when mutated in humans, leads to an incurable disease called Nieman Pick Disease Type C, which is a neurological disorder that prevents children from living beyond their teens (if even that long).  The NPC1 knockout mouse resembles many of the characteristics displayed by human NPC patients and is very useful for studying the molecular mechanisms involved (and is used to test potential therapy options).

The interconnectedness of space and time

Just like to say thanks to everyone who read through the interview with graycie. She’s an amazing educator and I think the edusphere would be a little duller without her voice. As a matter of fact, she’s been a little silent this week, largely due to the terrible events at Virginia Tech. She writes in her latest post:

Virginia Tech is just down the road. Many of our students go on to attend Tech, or their cousins do or their brothers or sisters. The children and nieces and nephews of our faculty and staff go to Tech. Our neighbors’ children go to Tech.

For her, the events are evry close to home, and she uses that story to lead into the death of a too-young co-worker. Too often, it seems, that the aftershocks of a tragedy are more painful than the original event. Make sure you drop a line to graycie, her co-workers, and their families at her latest post — Darkness, Nothing But Darkness.

The event at Tech was astounding, and surely something we never assume will happen where we live or where we work, but these tragedies also spread further than we imagine. My students were quick to bring me the story of Liviu Librescu, a Professor of Engineering Science and Mechanics at Tech who held shut the doors to his classroom so that his students could escape. He was killed as his students fled. Librescu was a Holocaust survivor and his passing ironically occurred on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah.

Librescu’s courage reminds me of the closing lines from the afterword of Jacob’s Rescue, by Malka Drucker and Michael Halperin, which speak of the courage shown by the Righteous Among the Nations — those who risked their own lives in an effort to save Jews during the Holocaust. The authors write about the fact that we are often unsure of our own courage, and that we might not recognize it resides within us until we are forced to show it.

This event also reminds me of the closing lines from the play “The Diary of Anne Frank,” by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, where we hear Anne’s voice echoing in her father’s ear: “In spite of everything, I still believe people are really good at heart.” Librescu showed his courage despite what surrounded him.

Further still, I find that the shooter at VA Tech was apprently a student of a poet we’ve studied in class — Nikki Giovanni. We studied two poems and discussed the possible meanings as well as the deeper connections we recognized in our own learning. For example (and this is in no way representative of the shooter’s motives, but a reminder that our actions are guided by our thoughts — that our actions express who we are and what we seek), we saw the following lines in Giovanni’s poem “Choices”: