Sunday, February 10, 2013

To produce science and to produce scientists

I have no clue whether readers of this blog know or follow Josh Schimel, who does Writing Science (and a book by the same name). He has a really nice piece here on a question that's  been eating at me lately. It's not the title of the piece ("Why strong labs sometimes submit weak papers"), but rather this much bigger point:

we must remember that as professors, we have two responsibilities: one is to produce science; the second is to produce scientists. The latter may be the more important—our highest responsibility is as mentor and trainer and while single papers easily disappear into the morass, the scientists we train create a living legacy. 
I’m sure almost all of us have had to deal with manuscripts where we knew it would be much easier to take the data and just write the paper ourselves, rather than try to coax a student’s work into a polished form. But doing that would undermine them; they need to learn how to write good papers, how to manage the process, and how to gauge when a paper is ready to submit.
I'd be curious to hear what other people, faculty and students, think about that balance and how to find it. It is something I struggle with just about every single day. 

And a big h.t. to Lauren Lew-Hall (@dialect) for tweeting about the post.


Kathryn said...

I find that what helps students conduct and write good research is a lot of reading of approachable and well-written articles and abstracts. I have them identify the various elements (argument, methods, discussion etc) and discuss what they do/don't understand. Then transfer this to writing research proposals that include many of the same elements (e.g. research questions, mini lit review, methods and data with example analysis). The proposals form the basis of presentations and research reports. They often write research reports in segments with classmates and me giving them feedback along the way. My feedback includes research conferences, written comments and rubrics. Having students work in teams also seems to be effective, particularly when it comes to revision. One of the most challenging parts for students is writing results and conclusions and understanding how these are related but separate elements.

Mr. Verb said...

Thanks. Yeah, this is pretty different from the lab situation that Schimel is talking about -- though working in teams is directly parallel to that -- and one way that linguists have it relatively easy is that we can use all these tools. It must be much harder in a pure lab setting to deal with this stuff.

Josh S said...

In a natural science "lab setting" we do have all these tools--students can and do work with each other. We have lab meetings where we discuss these issues. A serious problem though, is that much of what students read in the published literature is not an example of how to write well, but of how to write badly! The science fiction writer Ted Sturgeon coined "Sturgeon's Law" which says that "90% of everything is crap" and in published work that might not be true for the content, but it is usually true for the writing. Students see poor writing and try to emulate it--that is how they show they have "joined the club."