The last few months have continued to be a bit crazy. I moved back to Florida from Michigan, then moved back to Michigan right after defending my PhD, and finally left again a few days later for Evolution 2016 in Austin, Texas. But, all that hard work has paid off and I'll be graduating from Florida State University in August!
Although the first drive up to Michigan was pretty exhausting, we did make it with lots in the van because master packer Marshall was in charge.
The Evolution meeting was also quite exhausting but even more fun to see cool research and meet lots of amazing undergraduates as part of my new role as coordinator for the Undergraduate Diversity at Evolution program. It was wonderful to meet so many people in person that I had only been emailing with for months! A big plus of the meeting was to share news of my successful defense as well. To top it off, at the closing reception (Super Social) we enjoyed delicious food truck tacos/sliders, margaritas, and cupcakes! All in a day's work as an evolutionary biologist.
March was a very busy month for me with travel across four different states - Michigan to Florida to Colorado, then back to Michigan, a quick visit to Iowa, then back to Florida!
While in Florida the first time we had our long-awaited Southeastern Ecology and Evolution Conference (SEEC 2016) hosted by the FSU bio grad students. In Colorado, we had a working group for our Data Nuggets NSF DRK-12 grant, which was very productive and fun! It was great to meet the other collaborators in person, too. Finally, I even was able to drive to Iowa and visit family for a holiday (Easter) for the first time since 2009 (normally we fly). Now that I'm back in Florida, it's crunch time to finish up my dissertation work in time for my defense (2 months and 5 days away!!).
But, I did get a chance to share some of the exciting work I'm doing for my postdoc at the BEACON Center for their weekly blog posts. Check it out here!!
Last night I happened to see the trailer for the new Ghostbusters movie (the latest reboot idea). I was a bit curious about it, especially since the leads are all female this time around. As the characters were introduced, however, I became more and more disturbed...
First, three white female scientists/engineers are introduced as dedicating their lives to understanding the paranormal. Later, an African American woman (named Patty) says she'll join their group because while the other three "are really smart about this science stuff", she knows New York. I realize the original 1984 Ghostbusters also included three white scientists and a black employee, but I strongly believe the characters portrayed in contemporary films need to reflect the world we currently live in, and avoid reinforcing stereotypes that can cripple our nation's progress in STEM (Science, Technology, and Math) education. The director/writers may not have consciously tried to suggest African Americans (or just black women?) are not scientists, but the character of Patty is definitely NOT going to encouraging African American kids, especially girls, to pursue an interest in science.
On the other hand, the actress that plays Patty, Leslie Jones, has made some comments on Twitter that suggest she thinks such critiques are silly, tweeting that it's not about race, gender, or class. Instead, it just showing that a regular person can also be a ghostbuster and a hero. I certainly consider this aspect to be an important point, too, but other modern retellings are able to express stories in a way that is more inclusive of race. Check out the broadway musical Hamilton for a great example!
Another reinforced stereotype, of perhaps a less serious nature, is that the street-savvy Patty needs to help the scientists and engineers navigate the real world (at least that is the implication I took away from the trailer). As another review already pointed out, this trope is commonly employed in movies and shows, such as The Big Bang Theory. Brilliant scientists like Sheldon and Leonard need help with the most basic social situations, which they receive from their 'normal' neighbor Penny. I can definitely admit that scientists need to get better at being able to explain their research and its significance to the general public (see Randy Olson's films as an example), BUT most of us are capable of navigating social situations or understanding 'real life.' This stereotype feels to me like I can't be both a scientist and a regular person somehow. Again, it's probably NOT encouraging kids to look on a career in science as favorable.
Overall, I'm pretty sure this movie is not going to draw me to the theater when it comes out in July!
After our 'big' snow last week, I was very glad that the CREATE for STEM mini-conference still was taking place! This MSU research institute strives to improve teaching and learning in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) disciplines from grades K-16. For the fourth year this one afternoon event was filled with many faculty, postdocs, graduate students, teachers, and administrators for two poster sessions and a keynote speaker (Dr. James Pellegrino, pictured here). As a relative newbie at MSU, it was great to meet more people and learn about the fabulous research topics being explored, as well as catching up with some familiar faces!
One of the big areas in education research right now seems to be aligning teaching practices with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and developing assessments to determine whether those practices actually advance their intended learning outcomes. Although NGSS is geared for K-12, it has a useful framework to inform undergraduate teaching and learning (Cooper et al. 2015). At the poster session I was also impressed with work being done to automate grading of student written responses, which even has its own research group - Automated Analysis of Constructed Response. Besides the time savings for instructors, these tools can simultaneously provide data for education research to determine which concepts students have the most difficulty and why. Other areas I learned about looked at retention/attendance in a flipped vs. traditional lecture course, student reasoning on interdisciplinary phenomena, project-based large-enrollment lab courses, student perception of their science identify, and pre-service teacher education that includes field-based research.
Overall I really enjoyed the mini-conference and just wish it had gone on a little longer - so many great projects to learn about and people to meet!
Undergraduate diversity travel awards are available to attend Evolution 2016, June 17-21 in Austin, TX! Find out more and apply online.
The Society for the Study of Evolution (SSE) and the BEACON Center are funding a cohort of diverse undergraduates from throughout the U.S. to present a poster, receive mentoring, and participate in career-oriented activities at the annual Evolution conference. The application deadline is Monday, April 18th, and decisions will be announced by Tuesday, April 26th. Applications are welcomed from all U.S. undergraduates, and the admissions goal is to create a diverse pool of students. Find out more about the Evolution conference here.
They also need mentors (grad students, postdocs, and faculty) for the undergraduate awardees. This is a fantastic program to get involved with, so if you plan to go to Evolution 2016 definitely check it out!!
Charles Robert Darwin was born on February 12, 1809 in England. Today, we celebrate his contributions, along with Alfred Russel Wallace, to evolutionary theory.
I would love to see 'Darwin Day' officially recognized in the U.S. In fact, a resolution was introduced (again) in both the House and Senate last year to do so! One of my favorite lines from it: "Whereas Charles Darwin's theory of evolution by the mechanism of natural selection, together with the monumental amount of scientific evidence he compiled to support it, provides humanity with a logical and intellectually compelling explanation for the diversity of life on Earth."
Here in Michigan we have a 'Darwin Discovery Day' at the MSU Museum (on Sunday), which I'm planning to attend, but other places are doing lots of neat events, too. Check out what might be in your area here! Also, Iowa City's events occurring Feb. 18-20 were recently discussed on Iowa Public Radio. They are even hosting a workshop for teachers on Saturday afternoon to discuss overcoming controversy in the classroom. Very cool.
So, how are you celebrating Darwin Day 2016?
My exciting (terrifying?) news is that my dissertation defense date is now set for June 10, 2016! Although I recently started my postdoc position at the BEACON Center, I am simultaneously finishing my PhD at Florida State. Crazy? Yes, indeed!
Now I have exactly four months from today to wrap everything up on my Pine Barrens Treefrog dissertation chapters, so, I decided maybe a blog might hold me accountable for getting things done!
Biologist. Educator. Researcher. Frog-lover.