So when I was in grad school, the dean of the school of earth sciences was this woman called Pam Matson, and she told the story about how her six-year-old daughter came home from school one day and said, “How come you don’t make brownies like all the other moms?” For me, it was a really powerful and poignant example of the struggle we all face trying to balance our personal and professional lives.
He was 15, though behaviorally and developmentally he was about 5 years younger. Anticipating our visit, he had printed out fact sheets about various sea creatures from an online encyclopedia. Now, he eagerly showed the slightly crumpled pages to us—a group of biology graduate students visiting his school for a science day. It was a chance for him and his fellow students, all foster children with difficult histories, to forget some of their troubles while exploring the science of living things. They loved it. The experience was as rewarding for me as it was for them. Remembering how excited that boy was to “talk biology” with us helped affirm my decision to make science outreach a focus of my career. Doing so turned out to be harder than I imagined, but nothing would have stopped me from wanting to share the excitement of learning about the natural world.
Being successful requires more than acquiring knowledge and developing experimental skills. It also requires: (1) asking a good scientific question, (2) establishing a clear plan of action, and (3) seeking advice along the way. These three topics are the focus of this course “Planning Your Scientific Journey,” which is aimed primarily at life science graduate and undergraduate students, but also useful for postdocs, staff scientists, and others who could benefit from learning or reviewing these topics.
People learn in lots of diverse ways. Students who are deaf or hard-of-hearing, though, can face an extra hurdle: They can’t hear their teachers. But the challenge is not insurmountable. Many hundreds of newly minted deaf scientists prove this.
Some things are worth memorizing–addresses, PINs, your parents’ birthdays. The sine of π/2 is not among them. It’s a fact that matters only insofar as it connects to other ideas. To learn it in isolation is like learning the sentence “Hamlet kills Claudius” without the faintest idea of who either gentleman is–or, for what matter, of what “kill” means. Memorization is a frontage road: It runs parallel to the best parts of learning, never intersecting. It’s a detour around all the action, a way of knowing without learning, of answering without understanding.