Having finished my teaching duties for the spring semester, I am ON BREAK! Of course, I go back to teaching the week of Memorial Day. Fabulous, right? So what do I do to enjoy all this free time while I'm in between classes? Take a class, obviously. Specifically, I'm taking the SciFund Challenge class over the next few weeks to learn more about science outreach and communication. Not exactly biochemistry, but rigorous in its own way.
Today was the first synchronous portion of the class, hosted on Google Hangouts, and it was definitely interesting. Talk of expectations, goals, purpose of the class, introductions and so on filled the time, although there were some really good points from Jai Ranganathan about funding models and the scientific process, and how those things are changing. This discussion comes on the heels of an announcement earlier this week that Congress wants to remove the peer review process for awarding NSF grants- one of the largest sources of research funding for basic science- and instead substitute Congress' own judgment. Talk about politicizing science!
As we see funding sources for research drying up, and universities hiring more non-tenure track faculty instead of tenure lines, and more courses moving online through MOOCs and other options, higher ed is definitely changing. As institutes of higher ed have classically been the place where the bulk of basic research is done, this is troubling. No longer can educators rely on relative job security, and no longer can researchers rely on grant money. That's both scary as all get out, and as just as exciting. If scientists are going to continue to receive funding for their research, they have to communicate with the public about why their research deserves funding.
Education doesn't take place just inside the four walls of the academy (or any four walls); education happens everywhere. Science doesn't just happen inside the four walls of a lab; science happens everywhere. We need to recognize these facts, and help to foster education and science in more diverse formats than we have previously. I'm not saying that this will be an easy switch for those of us who like our cloistered little corners of the world, but it's an important switch, and maybe one that will lead to more public understanding of science, and ultimately a better educated populace.
I think we can all agree that that last point would be a good thing.