Category Archives: Faculty Initiative

Ah, the smell of books


I love books. I really love books. I have four library cards in my wallet; books from used book stores, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and work are all over the house and my office. I often find the library or nearest college campus whenever I travel alone and go visit. The first thing I do when faced with a professional or personal challenge is look for a book about it.

I am no luddite, I enjoy new technology, but I will never own an e-reader. I want to hold a book in my hand, turn the pages, feel the paper, smell the crisp pages or musty aroma. I do have to admit, though, that most of the research I do for literature reviews, class, or other things for work are done solely online. So is it fair that I want students to go to the library, to use books? That a required entry in initial bibliography assignments is to cite a book? I think so- I want them to be aware of all the resources available to them, all that is out there.

It struck me when Martin Weller mentioned the “nightmare” of the “Googling of higher education [when] libraries…are replaced by digital copies of all content.” That is one of my nightmares, but I don’t think it will happen. I have two main reasons for thinking this:

  1. I live in a very urban neighborhood where most people walk to the library. It is often packed. Yes, many people are in there to use the computers and free internet, but there are also lots of people browsing the books, videos, magazines, and music. Families of all socioeconomic classes are bringing their children to the library for many reasons.
  2. When the television was invented, most people thought that would be the end of the radio. We still have LOTS of radio stations. When the VCR/DVD came around, many thought no one would go to the movies anymore. But millions of people pay $12 to see it on the big screen. People like choices, they like different offerings of content depending on the mood, goal, or time available.

To me, this means that more niches are carved out. There will always be a desire for libraries, and there will always be a need for librarians and face-to-face courses. But it doesn’t mean there isn’t room for all these new technological tools, too.

Now, don’t get me started on the future of my morning newspaper delivery…

Living Interdisciplinarity

As an environmental scientist, I have embraced interdisciplinarity to its fullest extent. Until recently, no “environmental scientist” has had an advanced degree in environmental science (ES for short). My background is soil science, other ES experts come from the fields of ecology, conservation biology, water science, marine science, etc.

The interdisciplinarity of environmental science (Source: NSF, Wikispaces)

The interdisciplinarity of environmental science (Source: NSF, Wikispaces)

Notice that a lot more than scientific expertise goes into environmental science. Those in ES pick up this knowledge from colleagues, papers, and experience. We often are necessarily more collaborative. It makes life much more varied and interesting. I enjoy teaching both environmental geochemistry and environmental policy!

One of the few disciplines not highlighted in the figure is art. Creativity in scientists often gets short-shrift, but many of us are very creative in our minds even if we don’t have true artistic talent. Just take a look at my field notebook to see how awful a bird can look- but the crude drawing reminds me of the beautiful bird I actually saw and the circumstances of the sighting which can inspire a future study or action. We appreciate the beauty of nature and how systems are all connected. Of course this hippie-esque perspective also sometimes causes our field of ES to lose some respect from those in the purer disciplines whose concepts and expertise we rely on.

Althuogh Weller claims that in many cases interdisciplinary work is often not profitable, I believe that is changing in the ES field. The reason is a sad one: because the environment is falling apart around us. It will take a lot of experts from a lot of disciplines as well as all citizens to help our poor Earth.

Coughing Earth

Looking under the Hood Cartoon

Several things seem very clear as I learn more about using Word Press, developing webpages, and taking hold of my domain.

First of all, it’s going to be a never-ending process. There will always be tweaks and improvements and new widgets to include. I can’t imagine ever having enough time to do this blog and website justice, and I wonder how anyone has enough time to actually write the code to come up with these amazing add-ons and widgets- for free! Every cool thing on a webpage is the result of so much time and effort, from the original creator to the webmaster finding it and figuring out how to use it.

But most of all, I’m realizing that I will never look at any website the same again now that I’ve seen all that’s “under the hood.” Looking at different layouts and themes, and all this, you can see how many little decisions go into what the viewer sees. Or how much they personalize and customize it. So, just like I can tell when an Excel graph only uses the default settings, now I think, oh, they just slapped on a theme. In most cases, I actually appreciate many organizations’ websites all the more now, realizing for the first time the time and effort that must go into these interactive, multi-faceted pages.

I’m worried about my own pathetic efforts in spare minutes that the whole world can observe!

Taking hold of my domain

The first group of faculty have come together to explore the brave new online world in an intentional way through the University of Mary Washington’s Domain of One’s Own Faculty Initiative. We all have the goal to grab hold of our online identity and do something with it.

Our first thing to tackle is a blog. I definitely enjoy reading blogs (like the FemaleScienceProfessor blog) and even assign them to classes (this semester check out the blogs from Global Environmental Problems), but I’ve always been dubious about writing my own blog.

Then today, I read this interesting column, “How Blogging Helped Me Write My Dissertation,” from The Chronicle of Higher Education. The benefits that Maxime Larive describes and the ideas in the comments all offer encouragement for trying to become a blogger myself.