[ASC-list] Scientific literacy of our leaders?

Rob Morrison rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au
Wed Feb 22 23:49:30 UTC 2012


Yes, I am sorre to have sidetracked the issue a bit, but the argument that you hear about ZPG being wrong comes up a lot and stirs one to reply.  Re the real issue of STEM greaduates, you say that:

"It leaves people like me, who have a STEM qualification but on a different career path, feel very uncertain about laying claim to the Scientist moniker. Is this a wider phenomenon among non-researchers or is it just me who feels this way?"

Sadly, I thiunk that is at least partly true, and part of the fault lies (I think) in the way we have promoted research as being the natural endpoint of a science degree. It used to be quite a feature of National Science Week here; at careers day we would bring in bright young researchers to show how exciting it can be diving on coral reefs etc. We have changed that now, and we include those who are in journalism, PR, admin etc to show that a science degree can lead to many interesting jobs, not just research, but the universities are keen for graduates to go on in postgraduate studies (it means money for universities) so that angle is much promoted. 

We don't expect all arts graduartes to become artists, writers, musicians etc. It is seen as a general degree equipping graduates for many jobs, and the public service is full of them. We should promote the basic science degree in the same way. I have a son who elected to do science although he is at heart a writer. He didn't ever want to be a researcher, teacher, lecturer etc; he just thought that it would teach him more about the world than an arts degree. 

As to whether a non-researcher should claim the scientist title; I think they should within reason.

The scientific process is, broadly, one of hypothesis, experimentation, collection of results, analysis of results, forming a conclusion and publishing it.  Somewhere (Hollywood?) we have promoted the idea that it is experimentation that defines a scientist. But surely anyone involved in the above processes has at least some sort of claim on the title if they have at least started with a science degree.

For example, Most museum scientists don't experiment. Some don't even collect. They work on classification of specimens that others may have collected - more in the anaysis and conclusion parts of the process - but lack of experimnentation doesn't preclude their being legitimately called scientists.  Similarly, theoretical physicists may work by analysing data collected and collated even decades earlier by others, but they are still sciuentists, as are those who may go collecting specimens in the field, even though they then leave the classification process to others.  In other words, if you have a science degree, and are working somewhere within the various stages of scientific method, I think you have a claim on the scientist tag. 

Rob

Dr Rob Morrison
rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au
Phone: (08) 8339 3790
Fax: (08)8339 6272
________________________________________
From: Regan Forrest [regan at reganforrest.com]
Sent: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 5:52 PM
To: Rob Morrison
Cc: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Scientific literacy of our leaders?

Hi Rob,

While I recognise the phenomenon you describe, that wasn't quite what I was getting at.

In fact, you've rather neatly illustrated the point I was trying to make, by assuming our hypothetical STEM graduate with political ambitions would be leaving a research career in order to do so.

To my mind, our collective assumptions of this nature reinforce the notion that the only 'real' scientists are the one on the PhD-postdoc-academic research career track, and anyone who takes another path is somehow not part of "the club". That's how it can feel sometimes anyway :-)

It leaves people like me, who have a STEM qualification but on a different career path, feel very uncertain about laying claim to the Scientist moniker. Is this a wider phenomenon among non-researchers or is it just me who feels this way?

Regan




On 22/02/2012, at 5:02 PM, Rob Morrison <rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au> wrote:

> Re point 2, I understand (but have no studies to back it) that the reason often given for the lack of scientists in parliament is that, while scientists have many of the skills needed for parliament (research, analysis etc), once you leave research for even a short while, it is hard to get yoiurself back in at the same level. This seems also to apply to women who take time out for child-rearing. The same does not apply to economists or lawyers, who happily leave parliament for plush jobs taking up law and commerce where they left off but at a more senior level, finding that their parliamentary years, and contacts made there, seem to be regarded as a plus.
>
> Dr Rob Morrison
> rob.morrison at flinders.edu.au
> Phone: (08) 8339 3790
> Fax: (08)8339 6272
> ________________________________________
> From: asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au [asc-list-bounces at lists.asc.asn.au] On Behalf Of Regan Forrest [regan at reganforrest.com]
> Sent: Wednesday, 22 February 2012 4:06 PM
> To: asc-list at lists.asc.asn.au
> Subject: Re: [ASC-list] Scientific literacy of our leaders?
>
> In the context of scientifically-qualified politicians and business
> leaders, I think we (and by "we" I mean the broader scientific
> community) need to address how we view those who do not follow the
> career path of the lab.
>
> I have always felt an implicit expectation that all science graduates
> will go on to become 'practicing' scientists, and that those who take
> other paths are somehow 'lost' to the profession. Graduates of history,
> economics, philosophy and so forth do not seem to be burdened by the
> same kind of expectations.
>
> To me, this has two different but related consequences:
> 1) People who are business or politically minded do not see the study
> of STEM as a helpful route to that ambition
> 2) People with STEM qualifications may not feel they are sufficiently
> equipped to embark on political and business careers.
>
> Do others think this is an issue or am I revealing my own hangups about
> having left the lab many many moons ago?
>
>
> Regan
>
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