Nobel winners share tips on their success

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Winners share tips and the keys to their successes. Many cite luck as a factor.

Scholars need to use their research more effectively to weigh in on public issues of the day (essay)

That academic policy analysis is not very likely to influence public opinion let alone be given weight in legislative or political domains should hardly come as a shock. People often disdain university research professors as intellectuals who inhabit spaces far removed from where the common man abides. Our perceived insularity and elitism hardly help, but neither does the undercurrent of anti-intellectualism in America that has received a boost in recent months.

The effect is to divide the “educated them” from the “uneducated us” and to alienate those needing information from those in good positions to provide it.

Citizens are bombarded with so much information, moreover, that responsible vetting of it has become increasingly difficult. They may absorb information about climate change, health care, school choice, foreign trade and diplomacy, and immigration without critically questioning the sources, or the intentions, of those creating the message.

So it behooves academics to reach across political and ideological divides to bring their expertise to bear on the issues of the day and to put policy arguments forward effectively.

Our work is cut out for us: not only have legislators in various states since 2014 filed close to 70 “academic freedom” bills permitting teachers to present established science as controversial, but science is now also under siege by an administration that questions empirical reality and disregards objective information to make policy. Scientists are fighting back, but they and academics more broadly need to do more than protest. We must figure out how to translate what we know and what we discover into understandable, meaningful language that is clear and credible, so that it, in a word, matters.

That we do not do this in a substantial way is, at least in part, our own shortcoming.

We develop expertise in our disciplines, often with a narrow, even detached, focus that can dissuade us from speaking publicly, let alone advocating actively. What’s more, academics who do speak in public often meet disapproval from their colleagues who perceive public communication as unprofessional, or worse, attention grabbing. Consequently, a public scholar is taking a risk.

Yet democracy depends on taking that risk. Otherwise, the public arena can devolve to the loudest or most politically pointed voices, not to the best informed.

Informing Public Discourse and Policy Making

With respect to climate change and public health, to take but two vital areas, academic research should figure prominently in public discourse and decision making. Providing it is a seminal role for a university, especially one with a land-grant tradition. At my institution, Rutgers University, such work has begun in earnest. For example, several scientists at our Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Rutgers President Robert Barchi have presented groundbreaking research in New York, Philadelphia and Washington that highlights how climate change is affecting life on our planet.

Disseminating Rutgers research on human health -- on the impacts of environmental hazards of toxic spills, on climate change and vector-borne diseases -- is another example and provides a model for other research areas. A series of programs that included faculty members and communications professionals focused on: 1) attracting media coverage to research, 2) communicating with the mass media on air and in print, 3) writing books for general audiences, 4) developing an online presence through the websites, social media and blogs of academics, and 5) forging social change by communicating the research to policy makers by, among other initiatives, giving effective expert testimony to legislators and building productive collaborative relationships with state and federal policy makers.

Rutgers is hardly alone in this. Stony Brook University has pioneered a program to train faculty members and graduate students so that their research can inform and engage a broad audience. Public writing and presentations are an important part of an academic’s overall mission there. It’s a promising initiative.

Professional associations are lending a hand, too. The American Association for the Advancement of Science, for example, is encouraging their scientists to speak publicly about their expertise more often and teaching them how to reach policy makers. That was prompted by the paucity of university researchers -- as opposed to lobbyists -- among those invited to address lawmakers during a period surveyed by the association.

According to Todd Gittlin in “Promoting Knowledge in the Age of Unreason,” we need to move beyond Earth Day demonstrations -- although those matter -- to new strategies, such as deploying billboards to present short messages from science that attest to, say, the importance of vaccines. It means institutions should sponsor more nonprofit, nonpartisan journalistic endeavors, such as the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism in Madison and the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism at the University of Iowa.

Demonstrating just how effective researchers can be when deploying their knowledge to public purpose, geometry professor Moon Duchin of Tufts University has shown how to use mathematics to confront gerrymandering. Duchin also created a program to train mathematicians to serve as expert witnesses in court cases over redrawn electoral districts.

At Carnegie Mellon University, graduate students started a group called Public Communication for Researchers, an undertaking to learn to explain their work to the public in ways that can be understood and valued.

Taking Public Engagement Seriously

If academe is to embrace a more expansive view of scholarship, to connect our disciplines to the complexities of life and bring scholarly research and thinking to pressing issues, then institutions should give such public engagement weight in the promotion and tenure process. They should encourage faculty members to engage in such public service and reward them for it. If professors appear before congressional committees and staff, for example, as well as state legislatures, they should be supported with university funds.

Universities might give some thought to hiring a dedicated communications liaison in their public relations offices to aid this important mission of translating significant research into forms and formats that can inform policy and educate the nation’s citizens. This person could play a key role in both shaping faculty members’ writings for mass-market outlets -- Politico, The Huffington Post, Red State, RealClearPolitics, Drudge Report, Vox and more -- and in facilitating the access the media have to faculty members and their writings. Entering the viral internet to create well-crafted messages for Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms can be an opportunity as well. Liaisons can also create contacts and build relationships with think tanks, libraries and community centers -- places where public programs take place -- not to mention keep doors open to legislative chambers for hearings and staff briefings.

And, as philanthropies become more engaged with public policy matters -- as they try to shape political discourse, education policy, health-care research and more -- academics ought not to overlook the need to deploy their research to help determine what ideas have legitimacy and deserve support, and thus seek to influence where donors choose to make their grants and investments.

Getting Results

The kind of concerted effort in which academe joined with media to help reduce cigarette smoking, raise awareness of threats to our seas and mobilize behind Earth Day is what we need to keep climate change, public health concerns and other pressing issues front and center on the nation’s and the world’s agenda. For advancing understanding -- and undertaking the policy challenges that face the nation -- we need to have an honest and thorough conversation with academics who are willing, prepared and encouraged to embrace an active public role.

Linda Stamato is a faculty fellow at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University in New Brunswick and co-director of its Center for Negotiation and Conflict Resolution. She has also served as chair of the Board of Governors at Rutgers.

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Tufts Adjuncts Reach Second Contract Agreement

Part-time lecturers at Tufts University’s School of Arts and Sciences reached a second, tentative contract deal, averting a strike planned for this week. The five-year agreement covers 240 adjuncts who voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union in 2014. Gains in the new contract build on those achieved in a first contract notable for its pay increases and job security measures. The new deal includes pay raises of 22.5 percent over five years for half the part-time faculty, and a 12.5 percent pay increase for others. Eligibility criteria for a professional development fund are expanded, and faculty members will get earlier notification of non-reappointment.

James M. Glaser, dean of arts and sciences, said in a statement that Tufts has had “a productive and respectful relationship with our part-time faculty, and under the terms of the new agreement they would continue to enjoy pay, benefits and terms of employment that lead our local peer institutions and the relevant market, as was the case with the previous contract.”

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Tweet About Professor Goes Viral (in a Good Way)

Twitter isn’t always friendly to academics; professors have been bashed and threatened via the medium (and sometimes professors do the bashing). But for Doug Schneider, a professor of accounting at East Carolina University, Twitter turned out to be a place for praise. Last week, a student emailed Schneider, asking for help on some course material during a late-night study session at the library, according to ABC-11. Instead of simply replying, Schneider headed to the library to help the student out. A student in the study group was so moved by the visit that she took a photo and shared it on social media with the caption “Sometimes ya just gotta appreciate professors who do everything possible to help you succeed.”

Photo of Doug Schneider, with a student, time stamped 11:10 p.m., with the caption “When [you’re] confused and email your professor and he comes to the [library] to help you study. Aw.” Photo posted Oct. 5 by student Marissa Flood from East Carolina’s Joyner Library.

The tweet has since been liked more than 36,000 times. East Carolina joined the conversation, too.

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A professor's joys and trials working out in the student gym (essay)

A. W. Strouse reflects on the joys and trials of working out in the undergrad gym.

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What Ivanka Trump should know as she embarks on ed-tech policy work

Ivanka Trump announced she wants ed-tech policy to be one initiative in her White House portfolio. For preparation, here’s what experts say she should read and study.

How colleges train instructors to teach online courses

Colleges use a variety of strategies to train subject-matter experts in effective online instruction. One surprise: in-person training is huge.

Boston U Investigating Claims Against Geologist

Boston University is investigating allegations of sexual harassment against the chair of its earth and environment department, according to Science. Two female former graduate students say that David Marchant harassed them during geological research expeditions to Antarctica when he was still an assistant professor. Other women reportedly accused him of similar behavior and male witnesses confirmed some of the complainants’ accounts; one man said he regretted not speaking out sooner.

Jane Willenbring, now an associate professor at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, part of the University of California, San Diego, said that Marchant called her a “slut” and a “whore” and encouraged her to have sex with his brother, who was also on the trip in 1999, Science reported. She also alleges that Marchant repeatedly pushed her down a steep slope, threw rocks at her while she was urinating outside and purposely blew volcanic ash into her eyes while she was experiencing painful ice blindness. A second, unnamed complainant who has since left academe says that Marchant verbally harassed her and threatened to block her access to research funding.

Willenbring reportedly waited to file a complaint with Boston about Marchant until after she obtained tenure, for fear of professional retaliation. Marchant, who declined comment, was scheduled to be honored as a fellow of the Geological Society of America this month, but last week his name was removed from the GSA website listing of new fellows, according to Science.

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ResearchGate bows to publisher pressure and removes some papers

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The scholarly social media platform ResearchGate has reportedly started to take down large numbers of research papers shared in breach of copyright.

Undergraduate online law courses exceed Canada's Queen's University's expectations

A dean at Queen's University in Canada sees a lucrative revenue source -- for his institution and potentially other law schools -- due to popularity of undergraduate law courses.


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