Aug 23, 2019
Dr. Jeremy Marshall is an associate professor in the Department of Entomology and the new Office of Undergraduate Research & Creative Inquiry faculty director at Kansas State University. He has training and degrees in biology, chemistry, environmental and evolutionary biology, genetics, genomics, and philosophy, and teaches courses on insect biology, behavior, genetics, and evolution, as well as interdisciplinary courses like Art and Insects and Bees, Plato, and Who Knows What. In 2016, Dr. Marshall developed a new model of undergraduate research experience capable of providing research education opportunities for more students than most traditional approaches. Scott, Jon, and Jay had a really great conversation with Jeremy about a number of factors that can make or break learning for students. This conversation is a little lighter in regards to food, but it does come up throughout the conversation.
For more about Dr. Marshall check out: https://entomology.k-state.edu/people/faculty/Marshall-Jeremy.html
A Fresh Look at Science Education with Dr. Jeremy Marshall – Undergraduate Research
Something to Chew On is a podcast devoted to the exploration and discussion of global food systems. It's produced by the Office of Research Development at Kansas State University. I'm Jay Weeks PhD candidate in the Department of Agronomy. My co host is Scott Tanona, an Associate Professor in the Department of Philosophy who specializes in the Philosophy of Science. What makes information knowledge? If a teacher stands in front of a class and tells you to remember something, and you get the right answer on the test, did you know it? Why do you remember a lot from some classes and nothing from another? Today, we are sort of taking a break from directly food focused topics to explore science, education, something that we feel can be of interest to anybody that enjoys learning. And we assume that if you're listening to this that applies to you. Whatever your opinion on whether we live in a post truth or post normal science, society or something else entirely, there is no doubt that the ability to understand assess and meaningfully incorporate information into our lives, especially for the youngest among us, is important in some capacity. Our guest is Dr. Jeremy Marshall. Dr. Marshall is an Associate Professor in the Department of Entomology, and the new Office of Undergraduate Research and Creative Inquiry faculty director. He joined case day in 2006, and has training in degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Environmental and Evolutionary Biology, Genetics, Genomics, and Philosophy. He teaches courses on insect Biology, Behavior, Genetics, and Evolution, as well as interdisciplinary courses like art and insects and bees. playdough. And who knows what, which we dig into into the discussion over his passion, his undergraduate research. In 2016, Dr. Marshall developed a new model of undergraduate research experience capable of providing research education opportunities for more students than most traditional approaches. Scott, John and I had a really great conversation with Jeremy about a number of factors that can make or break learning for students. Like I said, this conversation is a little lighter in regards to food specifically, we do touch on some related topics. But if you have any interest in education as an activity, I have no doubts that you will find this interview worth your time. Enjoy. Dr. Jeremy Marshall, welcome to the podcast.
Thanks for having me. I'm excited to see where this goes today.
So, but excited to talk to you. We talked a little bit briefly before and we'll do an intro before the podcast starts. But we always like to get everybody's perspective on their background. So when you tell us a little bit about yourself.
Okay, so I like to actually back up to when I was a kid, when I normally talk about this, because, for me, it's sort of the big Y in terms of everything that I've done in my career. And what I'm doing now, starts there. So I grew up in Mississippi, and then in Georgia, my parents didn't go to college. When I went through school, I actually had pretty bad speech problems. So I stuttered really badly all the way through elementary and, and middle school. So it took a lot of work to try to get past those sorts of things. My parents tried as best they could, but they were. They didn't know how to help, basically. And so when I went to college, I just went to a small school that offered the most money, right? That's all I really looked for when I was looking for a place to go to school. And I was completely lost it know what I was doing. I didn't know how to study I never really studied going through high school. You know, my parents in elementary school focused on things like hey, you need to do well on the spelling test. Because, you know, that's the thing, get memorize the words and you can check it, it's easy to check, right? Oh, you got it made 100 on your spelling test. That's great, but really didn't have anything else. And so, turns out the first year of college wasn't tough even though I still wasn't studying and didn't know how to do that. It wasn't till the second year hit that I realized I need to to learn how to study so I started bombing classes also I started dating my, my wife then so I like to blame to blame her little bit district cheated. She does not like she does not like that story. So I had a whopping 1.9 that semester, and it was on scholarship. I was in danger of potentially losing it. I went to my professors and talked To them, they said, Well, what are your study habits and I went, I don't study. And so they sort of started from there, right? These are the things you need to be doing, stop worrying about the grades, that you're getting focused on learning the material. And it really was that sort of undergraduate mentor that really made a difference for me, and the kind of person that I've become, and how did I go about learning how to think right, and so it sort of started there. And then my master's was kind of the same way I was at least more confident. The area I was focusing on was life history evolution. So how was it that I actually worked for my Master's and PhD both on amphibians and reptiles, I wasn't working on insects at the time, and going out sampling, just trying to be a good scientist and trying to figure out how to think and it really wasn't until my PhD, that my advisor was very old school, he actually required all of his PhD students to do two languages, which was was not a requirement of the university and get a doctoral minor in philosophy, which was a six core sequence and write in defend a paper. Once again, this was not a requirement of the university, it was his requirement. It was then that I essentially sort of broke down everything that I thought in terms of how I approached science and the kinds of questions I was interested in, and sort of built up a my own sort of personal philosophy of how to approach work. But through that entire process, even as a master student and as a PhD student, I always involved undergrads and the things that I was doing, because I thought reaching back and helping was the right thing to do. And my first job was at the University of Texas at Arlington. In a biology departments, I did the same sort of thing, right, from day one, I recruited at eight undergrad start my first week, they helped me set up my lab, we help you get going. And that's what I built from, and then going from there to here, our department doesn't have a long history, or didn't have a long history of recruiting undergrads to be involved in research, but I did. So I started with five and then recruited five, basically, every year, you know, three of them, or four of them would go away, and there's only be one or two sort of left to keep going, but then just bring in the next crop and, and just keep building. And so that's sort of my background of struggling, not having a lot of direction early on, having someone helped me that's been sort of the drive for me to want to give back and, and help others. And that's those moments when you have those students in your office and they're in the same boat that you were they're struggling there. It's common that students end up my office crying at some point. I mean, I thought it was a bad thing at one point, but just having them being willing to talk and discuss the issues or going through is actually helped them. And so those are the things that sort of really drives me every day. So that's hopefully that wasn't too much background. But that's
no, yeah, I mean, that's great. You bring up some really interesting points, and it's something that I don't think it's highlighted enough is sort of people think about the struggles of first generation students. And there's not a lot of discussion about some of those very specifics, right about No, you don't know what you don't know, going into these things. So what are some, what are some of the ways that you tried to help those undergrads, what do you think is most fundamental or foundational? To get them out on the right foot?
So this is gonna sort of sound a bit odd to a lot of a lot of people. But what I actually tried to emphasize is failure. Right? So it seems like an odd thing to sort of emphasize, but it's okay to fail, right? There's not this sort of magical thing that you always have to be perfect, right? The way that we succeed in life is by failing and learning from it. And so we reframe it a bit. We talk about productive failure. So you're doing this, you're not successful, right? And most most students think, Hey, I've, I've prepared all this time for this particular exam, and I bombed it. Well, then what do you do with the exam? Well, I just put it my backpack. I haven't looked at it again. Well, that's not what you need to be doing. Right? You need to go back look at every single question that you missed. And ask the question, why was it because I, oh, I just made a stupid mistake. Was it just because I, I wasn't actually prepared for that particular kind of question. What was it? If you figured that out? Then you go back and try to figure out okay, well, I was a stupid thing. That's easy enough, but I didn't know the material go back and relearn the material. And so Students aren't forced to do that. And so oftentimes, they'll never do it right. And so what I, what I do in my classes is, we give them an exam, they get to see what they what they missed. And then then they have the chance to go back and actually correct those things. And the other thing I do is what's called the worst three. And so basically every exam, the three questions that you did the the worst on, or the ones that you skipped, because I actually provide choice on my exams, as well. And this is sort of a curious thing, right? It turns out that students oftentimes know, let's say, they know 70 80% of the material, but you might ask, right, questions that don't fall within that 80%. Right. So students know a different 80% of the material. So you provide some choice. But that's actually really good for me too, because the questions that they choose, and more importantly, the questions that they don't use, let me know what I did a poor job of, of teaching and explaining. And so when I say do your worst three, it's usually the three questions that they didn't pick. And so now, I provide more material, they get to go back and review those and answer those and learn that material. And then when they get the corrector exam, they're now focusing in a very invalid, individualized sort of way, the things that were tough for them, right. And so now they get a chance to learn from that and move forward to the next one. And when we started doing these, these kinds of things in our classes, the difference between how they did, obviously, their grades will go up, we give them half credit back and things like that. But what ends up happening is when we get to the final, right, when things are cumulative, and everything's built upon each other, they now know it, right? Because they've had this chance to see it again and go back over it. So yeah, so what I really try to focus on is that it's okay to fail. And we need to build on those to try to be successful or more successful the next time.
So yeah, the failure stuffs great. And I think that's, we don't emphasize that nearly enough, right? I like tell my kids, my students, my kids to my own kids, right. And then the students I have right sort of that yes, failure is good, right? We learned from failure. And if you actually, if you're not failing at something you're trying at, it might mean you're not pushing yourself hard enough. Right. So I think that's super important. I love what you're doing. One question, I was wondering what you thought about was, how much about that whole process? Are you talking about do you think one of the that's important, what's important is like, the psychological attitude towards failure, and how much of it is the actual process of going and learning stuff, right? Because the sort of the comfort with making mistakes and or trying something and failing is like, super important for you just ability to do that. And even how well you're going to do right, you know, this is part of the focus on like, the growth mentality versus like a fixed rate knowledge mentality or whatever, right? Sort of, then you had sort of some time where you don't know something and you're like, oh, it's, oh, that's has to do with me, rather than just like, oh, there's something I need to learn, right? So some of its like, psychological, right? Like the state of mind, you have, right, exactly. How important is that component to it versus just doing stuff?
And sorry, to end to build on that? Do you communicate the stakes, right? Like, you know, we're often teaching students the eye test or something is like, some, like it's the end of the world, right? If they fail, one test, when now in school is probably when you should be failing the most, because the stakes really aren't that huge. Right?
Right. Compared to lots of Yes, that's right.
And so we’ve actually done two things, to sort of address these points. In terms of the stakes of individual exams. We still have, you know, loads of classes on campus that are essentially set up as high stakes courses, right, where, there are one or two exams for the semester, or they have one big paper or something like that, you know, in one big paper is fine. If you've built the structure, right? Throughout the course, they've done many parts, they've gotten a lot of feedback, so they're very comfortable with that in product is going to be I am not a fan of having high stakes, just a couple of exams within a class. So we while we still have, you know, three or four exams, percentage wise, they don't make up, you know, maybe they make up 20% instead of 80% of a class or something like that. We really focus on learning that day, right? So I rather you show up to class, and we do something and you're involved with it. And then we use that and we build we move on to the next thing, as opposed to I don't care if you show up to my class, which is kind of what I went through. When I went through college. It was we don't care if you show up. We're going to teach what we teach. People are going to know instructors and faculty Just gonna list off all the things they think you need to know, you have to somehow keep up. And then you have an exam. I don't, I am sort of at the other end of the spectrum, I rather engage them, I want them there. And so that we lower the stakes. But even if it's a low stakes test that's worth 10% of your grade or whatever, each individual exam or 20%, whatever, whatever it might be, they're still going to be nervous, right? They're still going to have that anxiety. And so, why then, is it important to have the kind of mindset that you're talking about Scott, when it's, is it this sort of psychological state? You know, what, if? What's curious if you let students know that it's okay to fail, and you're going to have the opportunity to go back and look at those things that you do poorly on, they actually study more for the exams, going into it, it's not the other way around, you always say, Oh, well, if you give them too much, too much leeway, they're not going to prepare at all, I do not see that phenomenon at all, it's actually the other way around. Because they know you care about them. Everything that I do in my career is built around one simple word care, right? I want to care about the student as much as I possibly can. And as long as they know that, they're going to respond to you wonderfully, and they do they respond in class. When we do our undergraduate research program, they respond beautifully. In know, we've grown our miners program, and entomology over the last three years, we had five students, now we're at 16, technically, we've done that over two years. And the we have students joining the program, who, who may be getting a minor in entomology might be tangential to the things that they're going to do within their life, but they know that we care, and they want to do it. And that's how we're actually we don't have a major, so we just have minor so. But they're drawn to us, because we care, like, Oh, my home department, we don't we don't do these things, you know, you care so much you do. And that's what we really go for. And so there is the psychological part. And honestly, that's what I'm, that's what I'm hoping for, right? I want to connect with you emotionally, right? Not reasonably or rationally, not as a scientist, I want to connect with you as a human first and then build.
So there's a, like, very, you mentioned totally different views about what education is about, right, you know, in some sense, right. And so you shared your story about how you came to, to become teaching and what you care about, and what you're motivated by. What are your views about sort of what universities are here for, like, what are we supposed to be doing? Because we don't always serve, especially first generation students? Well, there's a lot of, you know, the, at least a lot of what university teaching is about is, seems to be oriented around this idea that here's this knowledge, right, and sort of come and get the knowledge if you can, and if you can manage to do it, right. And then, you know, there's some help provided for you, but, but at least at a big research university, like Kansas State, there's a lot of us who focus a lot on teaching, right. But the kind of attitude that you just described in the kind of attention that you just described is not as typical, partly because, you know, a lot of us we spend a lot of time on research to, and that's a major focus of what professors do. Right? So, so, so just put this what you're talking about, just in the context of, you know, a research university like Kansas State in general.
That's right. And so I would, I would suggest, sort of first and foremost, that just because you are a large research, one university, and that may be your primary focus, it doesn't mean that you can't be a caring, quality teacher, right. It's just how, you know, you may have a, you may have classes that have a few 100 students in them, you can still do those things well, and do them differently than just standing up there and reciting a bunch of information. I do not think that a university's primary responsibility is just to essentially deliver information and then whatever the students are, pick up, they pick up.
And I mean, I don't want to characterize like things. I mean, so like, yeah, yeah, most teaching is not like this. I mean, most of us No, I mean, so there's phenomenal teaching can stay right out of, you know, throughout all the departments everywhere. There's a lot of focus. There's a lot of great classes. There's a lot of innovative stuff going on, right yeah, but there is you know, oh he's right. There's a little bit in the background. There's an old model that like a lot of us have picked up a long time ago that's been around it's just kind of like a here is the source of information.
Yeah, yeah. And that's how I that's actually how I started when I started teaching. I did the same thing because that was the model I actually didn't, the things that we do now I never had as a student, I mean, in some lab classes, maybe. But it was mostly sort of this idea of sort of stand and stand and deliver.
Do you get a lot of people saying that there just isn't time to dedicate to the sort of stuff that like you're doing?
So there are, there are always going to be they're always gonna be sort of faculty that sort of that say, this worked for me, I'm gonna stick with this, it seems to be working fine. You know, we've had really successful students. And all that is, is perfectly true. But the question becomes, who is that true for? Right? And so is it? What kinds of students are these approaches working for? And in what kinds of students are they not working for? And it turns out, it's the students that were probably a lot like me that didn't know what they were doing that you maybe you're, you're a little bit lost are. So for first generation students, students that have different kinds of backgrounds, and we have we pull from students from all over the world. Right? So where's here's a, here's sort of the great story that I like to use. So there, when I teach a genetics class, I like to use Legos to model protein structure, right? We use it for protein synthesis, and then how it works. It works out beautifully. And so they get to learn how DNA is put together, and then how that might work to make proteins by just using Lego bricks. It's a really cool lab. In teaching this one particular course there were roughly 15 students in the class 12 of them. Yeah, 12 of them. were originally born and educated outside of the United States. Okay, I said, Okay, we're gonna, we're gonna play with Legos and do this. Essentially, none of those students had ever played with or experienced Legos before. And so when I, when I said, here's the little bag of Legos, they just started moving them around on the table. They weren't, they weren't locking together or building something in it. And that was really one of the first times that happened here. Not actually that long ago, maybe six or seven years ago. Right went, Oh, everyone didn't play with Legos when they were growing up as a kid. And it's that sort of just drove home that point of, you know, what, not everyone has the same background, we need to be structuring, structuring things in a different way. So we had to have an hour, we made an hour session to play with Legos and learn how to build with them. So the lab would actually make sense. Sure. Right. So yeah, it's a Let's Play. You know, it sounds ridiculous, right? But it was necessary, and it made the lesson work well, and then they would understand the concepts.
And there's preconditions for everything, right, sort of, you know, you're always building on something else, right? So you're always sort of in you give some you given an assignment, or whatever it is, and you're kind of assuming, here's what everybody knows, right? And yeah, here's the note don't know how to manipulate and sort of don't know, naturally do that. I wanted to say about the first generation thing, too, which was interesting, because we didn't define it here. And it just occurred to me, I was at a meeting not too long ago, where somebody, we were talking about students and first generation students, and one of the faculty members said, you know, there was this moment when we were having this discussion. And I sat back and I realized, oh, yeah, wait, I'm first generation and wasn't, wasn't even like thinking of that. Right? So first generation, you know, your parents, you're the first one in your family to have gone to college. Right? And sort of like this. It's funny, number one, how sort of even people have then sort of gotten there into college, not necessarily identifying that way. But that also means that they're not thinking about what they don't have that everybody else does have that right. And certainly, since faculty have gone, your teachers or professors, right, your instructors have gone through college and gone through a lot of QA. Yeah, there's all these things that we just, you know, sort of they're in our blood almost at this point, right. And we it's easy for us to forget right about where everybody's coming from. Right.
That's right. And so what's curious is there's even a difference between sort of my generation going through college, right, so our generation is going through college and current generations that are first generation students. And so it turns out that the populations there, there were a much higher percentage of quote unquote, first gen, we didn't use that word, right. A lot of us were first generation students that we were the first in our families to go just because that's kind of how it was working out. Whereas now, because there are so many more that have actually gone to college when you're a first generation student in today's world, it actually puts you further behind than you word so I actually hadn't thought about this but but One of our assistant Dean's, and in the College of Ag had actually talked about this and I went, you know what? You're right. Because my kids now going to college, they we've, we've talked about everything that they need to be doing and who they need to be talking with what resources to use, they're taking advantage of everything they possibly can. And all it took was one Chino, it just took one generation to go through to sort of understand a lot of these sort of simple kinds of things. And it puts them at such an advantage, right, my daughter is a junior right now. And you know, she's advanced so much relative, to those around her. So she tries to help those around her that are first generation, but she's certainly doing all the things that she needs to do for herself as well. And she knows, right, she knows who to go talk to she can look through websites of information and say, Ah, these are the, these are the important players, this is what I need to go to. And that's critical. Those are skills that you only gain with experience.
So and that starts even before you step foot through the door, right? I mean, even selecting a college and knowing you know what to do in high school to get prepared and all that kind of stuff right?
They were right, right, they were building out their resumes in an elementary and middle school, right, you're gonna, you're gonna have to have something you're passionate about, right? It's not necessarily about doing 1000 things, it's, it's doing those few things that you're really passionate about, to be able to tell a good story. I mean, you're thinking about, it's a little ridiculous that you're, you know, you're talking to your 12 year old about thinking about what your story is going to be when you write an essay when you're 18 years old.
But anyway, the other end of the you know, the other end of that, I didn't think about that at all in high school, I'm somewhat older than the rest of you, folks. And at that point, at least for some people, the expectation of their parents are you will go to college someplace. And in even fewer, well, in a significant proportion, you will go in this particular major, because that's the way it's going to be. So I didn't have the advantage of that or more. I'm, I'm not an abject failure, because but it was viewed somewhat differently. I think, because my parents generation, many of them went to school as first generation students on the GI Bill. Yep, yep. Yep. So there's that little blip, that sort of pre baby boom blip, that did that. So it was a bit different. I was gonna go back to your exam theory back about 15 years ago, I moved to a here are 20 questions, answer 15. And what I found, and I don't know if this works for you as well, is that it changed the way students structured their test taking, rather than just putting their heads down and doing here's number one, number two, number three, and doing them in numerical order, and maybe getting stuck, and not distributing time appropriately related to the difficulty of the problem. If they had to do that first and decide which of the questions they weren't going to answer, it actually improves their scores in the long run, because it made them think what they were think about how they want to approach the test.
Yeah, no. So, there are students that that clearly go through the entire exam, just just read, read over it, make marks by them, right, you can see that here are their marks, these are ones that they're, they're going to target. And do that there are some that still work through it, just straights. But they're answering every question. And so what happens is that they actually go about answering everything. And then the ones that they feel the most comfortable about are the ones that they go back and circle that they want, that they want to have counted. And so there are some, it's, it's been really curious. You know, and maybe it's maybe it's sort of a group of sort of high achieving students, they want to answer they want to show me that they know all of it. Right. And they're actually interested in the ones that they didn't circle, they really still want to know how well they did on those. So it's, it's, it's kind of fun, right? And those are the students that usually sort of rise to the top in any class that they're in. And so it's not really designed for them, but there's a there's a there's a part of it, that's actually for them. But I don't think we actually fully gotten to your original question of how does this sort of fit sort of the university model? And I think there's actually a big push across the university. I know there is within the College of Agriculture to have all of us become better teachers in the classroom and that It doing the right things doesn't necessarily take that much more time if we think about how we might restructure things. And there's always you're entirely right. I mean, most of us have appointments that are really heavy research and just a little bit of teaching. And you know, honestly, if you do well on the research parts, as long as you're not just the most horrible person in the world, returning to teaching, it doesn't really matter. There's sort of the sort of historic incentive structures are very much focused on republishing. That's right, in the way that we're restructuring our university budget model. You know, there's a, hey, we need to be good at doing teaching and doing these kinds of things. But yet, you know, so we talk about that in faculty meetings. And then we have faculty go, but I thought we were a research university, why are we? Why do we need to care about doing this? Why are we so focused on teaching right now, we do great stuff with research, why aren't we focusing on that I don't understand what's going on. So we do have, we do have a lot of faculty that are still confused in a way, right, they don't really sort of know where they, where they fit, they're, they're sort of fine with what the sort of the old idea is. And when we talk about these new teaching approaches, they're a little resistant to try them. But ultimately, we're training our graduate students to be the best possible teachers that they can be. And there are faculty that, you know, older faculty that are willing to sort of change and do these things in our, in our younger faculty are, for the most part already. They feel that it's, it's, it's their role, it's the thing that they're doing to give back. And so I do think that the old model will change, regardless of sort of what budgetary structures are, because they want to give back, right, they want to do the best thing they can for their students, even if, and this is the part that has been really curious. Over the last, you know, half years, I've been interacting with a lot of faculty and even upper administrative types across campus. There are people that want to do the right thing, regardless of whether or not they're going to be rewarded for it. Right to go ahead and just do it. And let's see what happens. Because the worst thing that you can do is fail. Right? So why not take a chance, do it. And if you're not reward, I mean, none of these individuals are ever going to be at a point to where they're worried about their job in some particular way. Right? It's just how are you spinning your energy? And it's, and it's that culture that's going to make and makes K State great, right? It really isn't sort of this, let's just sit back and do the things that we've been doing it is, let's actually try to do what's right and what's best. And that's the thing that's gonna carry us forward.
I would, I would argue, this critical thing that has to occur is there has to be some kind of recognition doesn't have to be monetary, or anything like that. But somebody has to tell you, you have to be reinforced positively in the end. I'm in the College of Agriculture as well. Yep. And if department heads don't do that, yeah, then you've broken that link of confidence.
Yep. Yep. No, I actually, I think I actually agree with that. So my, I've been lucky and what within entomology, we had a wonderful department head that just left and John Roberson and our current interim department head prime McCormack is is equally wonderful. And they're just really supportive. And they'd say, look, where's your passion? What is it, you want to do focus on it and run. Even if that means you're, you're doing things that aren't exactly the things that you'd been doing for the 10 years before. But if this is the thing that's actually going to help you be excited about what you're doing every day, it's actually helping the art department be better. It's actually helping our college and the university better, we need to be doing those things. So you're right, that little bit of reward. And support is important, because we do have faculty in other departments where the department heads don't support them. But what's curious is that those faculty are still doing the things that they think are right, even if they're not rewarded. And now the The important thing to do is when we have the opportunity to get into positions of power or leadership on on campus is that we make sure that that, that the higher ups rights know that these are the kinds of things that are going on, and we need to we need to be changing the way that we do these things. And that's gonna that's happening, but I think it's gonna happen very slowly, because there's gonna be a lot of pushback and in some places, but…
Yeah, I feel like we're getting a lot into the weeds of sort of what the internal life of a department or university our serve a lot of public doesn't really understand how much of sort of how, of course, is actually going to be taught right, or what professors actually going to do. In a classroom is actually, you know, it's either influence or dictated right by a lot of these things, right. So that which is sort of what's rewarded what's recognize, what are you going to get your promotions for. And these things are really important, I think, for everybody to understand at least a little bit of and we've been talking a lot about that. I was curious whether, when you think about your teaching, and you think about what Kansas State needs to do, to be as good as a candidate, educating its students, why don't you think about the land grant mission, right?
When you do that, so being in entomology, and so I'm actually gonna back up just a little bit. So for me, my undergraduate degree was I double majored in Biology and Chemistry. My master's was in biology, my PhD was in environmental and evolutionary biology. My postdoc was in genetics and genomics, I did not start doing anything insect related until my postdoc, although actually my first undergrad project, I did identify insects, but I was focused on the little frogs that eat them. So but it ultimately the project was an intimate, intimate, logical type of project. But I was just excited about these little teeny tiny frogs I was working on. And so for me, it was really about sort of basic science was sort of the thing that I was was doing and really focused on during all of my training, and in my first position, and it wasn't until I actually applied here to K State, that when they were looking for someone doing behavior, and genetics and genomics within insects, they didn't really sort of care what kind of background you had, as long as you were presumably good at those things. And we're using insects, and I started working on crickets, and we were really successful. And so I was lucky enough to sort of get that job. But it wasn't till I was here, that I really started thinking about the applied components and, and thinking well, is the land grant mission, something that's actually different than a regular university. And that's something that's developed over time, I've been here now 13 years. And now it's completely integrated into the things that we do. And once again, there's a story that sort of goes along with this for me, and teaching a class once again, about seven or eight years ago, and we have a diverse population of students. My sort of philosophy of science kind of training, and the way I thought about things was, you know, you don't have to have a reason necessarily to do science other than to answer and address the question, right, there doesn't have to be this sort of human element that sort of tied to it. But when I asked my students that question, most of them always said, Well, science only matters, if it's applied to the everyday life. So people think if it helps the world, um, and, you know, I look at the class and go, this, it just, it just makes sense. There's a perspective that needs to be added to what the background of what each individual goes through. And once again, that was a turning point for me. So, now, when we think about the science that we do, or think about the way that we go about teaching our courses, we build it around problem solving. And so how do we go about thinking, right? What's the role in job right back to that sort of one of those original questions, the role and job of university? It isn't to say, here's information, right? Because there's all different ways to get information now. It's really how do we take this information, and think about it and combine it and use it and novel ways to solve complex problems. And it's these, if they were easy problems, we'd already solved them, right? Complex problems are complex for a reason, you can't just be one kind of thing anymore. And the reason it's a problem is because it affects humanity in some particular way. Right? That's how we define it as a problem. And so we need to think differently in the courses that we we teach. So I do a, an art and insects class, and it sort of sounds you know, fluffy or something maybe, right? Well, we focus on insects and art, but it's really about their intersection. And how do we, how do we combine the tools and things that we think about in these disciplines and no longer think about them as, as I continue on one end, or the other are two separate things. It's that they're completely integrated and they overlap. And so when we're when we're doing science, the kinds of things we know. Art actually helps us do our science. And when we're doing art, the kinds of things that we do in science help us do our art in the night.
So say more about this because I do have a specific example that you talk about in that class.
So yeah, so here's a, here's a, so I teach, I co teach that normally with a faculty member in the, in the art department, and he focuses on color, right. And so just in our discussions, and these are examples that we end up using in class, and we build on them, thinking about how color is structured, and how you build a particular color. And so how a color might be perceived. Thinking about butterfly wings is sort of a classic model, you have a bunch of different colors and spots, and he would go, well, actually, this color is really this. And if you adjust the the the frequency of light at which you're actually viewing and insects have a very different sort of spectrum of seeing than humans do, you would actually see this pattern instead, you go, wow, like what I mean, it sort of opens up the the idea of that, that perception, we're so biased by sort of human perception, lots of times these problems are biased by the perception of other kinds of things. And so this is where art informed science. Now the other way around is that if you are depending on the kind of artists that you are writing, depending on the kind of point that you want to make, if you actually understand anatomy of things quite well, then you can actually, you're actually doing your art in a different way. And so we actually have a lot of artists on campus who love incorporating insects, and let's say if you really want to get across something that's a little bit more terrifying. Maybe you're emphasizing structures within the mouth and the eyes, and exaggerating those in a way that you can do it in a fake way. Right. But if you do it in a real way, it's actually often much more terrifying than the fake thing that you can think about. I mean, so insects are great sort of inspiration for that. And so they're sort of a long list of, sort of examples and things that we look at that sort of go in both directions. And I also do an honors seminar class, that's called BS, Plato, and who knows what, and it's actually built around the idea of what counts as perception in knowledge based on who's perceiving it, or not, right. And so we run through some of the classic things with the cave with Plato, and what counts, we also think about intelligent intelligence and perception within BS, we focus a lot on what they're able to do. Because it turns out, there's been some brilliant research over the last decade that shows their problem solving skills, and the fact that they actually have a recognition of a concept of zero, right, which is, it's a pretty dramatic sort of thing. They actually understand nothingness. And so there's sort of this higher level, which is a huge deal, which is a huge deal. It's the idea that any sort of organism, we've thought, you know, it was a big deal over the last G since the 70s, that other animals could count, right? And you go, and my PhD advisor was one of these people that actually focused on counting in lower kinds of…
Yeah, and so I don't, I don't want to get too much like but so what do you mean by account? Sort of, like, what does it mean for an animal to be able to count.
So it's able to recognize a difference between one to two, right?
So right, or three and four, it's not just measuring like the size of a pile, but they can actually sort of recognize that there's more of a particular thing there.
And this, if it's a resource, right, it all comes down to more resources, where you're where you're going to invest your time. And it turns out, lots of animals can distinguish between numbers up to about four or five or six, right. And so they're pretty good at the sort of low numbers. And it turns out, they're actually misses, sort of, really, in the weeds, there are neurons that are associated with numbers that fire. And so that's how the sort of the basic mechanism works, to sort of fires the two neuron and one fires the one neuron. But to build a use memory and higher level counting to know that this area, I'm going to remember I'm going to develop a mental map of counts. And this, these are things that bees and wasps can do. So imagine that right? You have a bee that's, that's, that's going over a landscape. And they're not just seeing sort of pretty colors that we see. They're actually envisioning this world. It's made up of sort of black white violets, red sort of coloration rights, because they're in the UV spectrum. And they've developed an idea of, oh, this is a good patch, right? There's a whole bunch of resource here that they've counted, and there's very little resource there. And so it's this really specific sort of thing. They have these very complex cognitive maps, that most people would never imagine that bees could be able to do. And students don't recognize this. So they're perceiving the world entirely different than you are and the information they have, does that count as knowledge, right? Is it just information? Or does it count as knowledge? And if you go back to our classic definitions of these things, they actually check off essentially, almost off the boxes of accounts is knowledge, which blows students minds that there are other organisms besides humans that actually can do thing know, things that know things?
Has that be like those be concepts have they been? Is anybody tried to exploit them in the world of agriculture, right to attract more bees? Because they're so important to certain agricultural systems? You know?
Yeah. So it turns out, there are groups that are the reason that they're studying bees and looking at this is so they can apply it back to these these problems of how do you go about studying and understanding pollination patterns and those sorts of things, those that are those that are the one of the reasons that's going to end up being really important at some point, is not just sort of the protection of of bees and other pollinators. But if you want to design a system, right, if we screw up bad enough, and bees go away, we still have a job that needs to get done. How do we do that in potentially an artificial sort of way. And, the mechanisms are already in place in there, if you understand them. And so there's, there's a lot of sort of artificial intelligence that's being built off of these kinds of findings.
Oh, that's, that's fascinating. That is cool. And, and I just noticed, too, that we went from talking about sort of, I was gonna dig deeper into like, what's going on with those bees, just cuz I want to know, and then jays, like, Well, tell me how this is actually useful. Interesting things, like how you're talking about your students, right? You go anywhere. But, it was interesting. I do want to ask, though, about the thinking about bees having knowledge, what do you think? What do you think that does for for students? And what do you think that does, maybe also, for scientists, if they like, start thinking, doing interdisciplinary work in a way where you're kind of asking really different questions than you normally would have? Right, sort of it's, you know, the, does the B have knowledge or, you know, not, is not going to be a standard research question. I try in entomology? That's right. I try. So you're asking a kind of different question. You're integrating this with philosophy you're integrating with, and you're interacting, you know, the insects stuff with art, right? So that you're kind of looking at this a little bit differently, because you're thinking more about the, you know, how colors are piled up. So what do you think that does to students, and then to scientists, if they're going to go so far as to like, do some research or use science?
Yeah. And so the the intent of both of those classes and sort of that discussion, and then thinking about in terms of even the idea of complex problems, like, within food systems, and how do we feed the world really comes down to the idea that we can no longer sort of work as, as, as individuals and think that we can solve a particular problem we have to work across boundaries across disciplines in order to sort of gain their their particular perspective. And there's, obviously over the last couple of years been this question is, well, why does it matter so much to have diversity? In opinion, in perspective, when we're trying to solve problems? We know what I've already given two examples, right? Just in my own classroom, both with the Lego bricks and the importance of the direction of science. It's all about perspective, right? Because my background and perspective is different from someone else's. Now when we approach a complex problem, it's complex, and it's problematic for different reasons. Right. And if we're going to solve something that's that complex, we have to talk together, we have to work together. And that's, that's really all I'm trying to get across to the students. They're, they're freshmen, right, they're taking their first step in college, it's their, it's the seminar, it's a one hour thing we meet once a week, a lot of them think they're coming in, they're going to be dropped into one of the one of their lanes to do their major and to finish. But the idea is that you know what, along the way, if you want to do anything big, you're likely going to have to be working with somebody else. And you need to learn how to work with others. You need to learn how to appreciate what it is they bring to the table and not just automatically assume you know, everything. It's actually even change my approach in general, I go into most interactions, assuming I know almost nothing, right? So I know nothing. I fail at everything. What do you have let's build from your typical…
Well, that's fine.
Well, no, but that's how I approach things because I don't want to go in and make the assumption that this is what I know. And I'm going to lead or dominate from this particular position, I rather let you come to me, let's figure this out. Let me think a bit, and then we'll build a move forward, I want our students to be able to do the same kind of thing. That's what the university is about. It's not a, it's not about picking up things that if I gave you, you know, 20, textbooks, right, and 100 papers, there's your university degree, right? If you could do that, you could go pick it up for, you know, a few 100 bucks, what's the purpose of the university? Right, the university is more than that. It has to be and that's the way that we have to sell ourselves to the world, right? It's about how do we think it's not about just the information. Now, there's a lot of useful stuff when you're working on how things are done that are critical and important. But once again, it really is the thinking component that universities provide.
And plus in the non University world, the post graduation world, students aren't going to find themselves told to go lock themselves in the tower and work out a problem and come back in the next six months, they're going to be interacting with of necessity, that's right with people and it's not just even in your action piece is is shouldn't be assumed. Yep. So it I think you're addressing a really critical sort of thing. Yep.
How do students react when it's revealed that you know, things like BS or whatever see in different spectrums? Right. So that, you know, there's whole worlds out there that we our senses can't can't pick up, I'm always reminded of a was it Buckminster Fuller has the the quote, I'm gonna butcher but it's something like, you know, since the publication of the electromagnetic spectrum, we've come to realize that everything we see, taste, hear and feel is like 1,000,000th of reality or something like that, right? Is it really wild for them to have that realization?
So what's curious is, so because these are honor students, right, so they're bright kids that have been exposed to a good bit. And so in their heads, they have this idea that we don't perceive everything about the world, they sort of have that idea. We don't perceive everything. But I think it's rare that they actually see concrete examples. Right. And so providing that part, you know, the most common comment I'll get, other than, you know, hey, this was a great class or something. Not really, but you know, so is that, I still can't believe bees can do that. Right. So something built around that is, and that's only that's one day, that's, that's a day out of, you know, you know, 13 or 14 sort of lectures that we do, but that's the thing that sort of that they really remember. And so it is important. The other most frequent comment is I can't believe you wore that bee costume because I build off of right that I get them I introduced them to the bees by dressing up as a bee and doing the waggle dance and stuff. And you're famous. You're famous on Canvas for that's this is my thing, right? So dressing up in insect costumes. Yeah, it's important to me as a person to do these things.
So you, I mean, you do the costume thing. And you and you have the bunch of videos under the YouTube channel, insect fusion, right? In some of these things aren't even necessarily, you know, strictly educational. Right? What's your philosophy behind that? So first what what are those, the SEC fusion and then so…
Both on Twitter and YouTube. So I started I taught the art and insects class for the first time. Last summer, so summer 2018. And I sat down at my desk to do the standard, let's make a video with your little head in the corner sort of thing. It bored me to death, right? I couldn't even watch what I put together. I made it when I can't. Students can't watch this. This is horrible. And so I started just doing random things to incorporate into it and to try to be more engaging than just sort of a head in the box. And from there, it sort of developed into so for me, I like to say that apparently this little kid that's been repressed to me since I was you know, five or six or something just exploded out as soon as I put a video camera up and started dressing up. It turns out it's been really engaging, right? So students, like the fact that their professor is willing to do something that's that's, you know, sort of, you're trying to meet them where they are right, you're not in an ivory tower, you're not unapproachable and it trust me, you dress up in a costume, they will approach you write, they're no longer scared. You are not you aren't on a pedestal anymore. You are now ready for them to talk to and about a month before classes start and so I've already started it now. I send students a video about once a week. And it's not always necessarily educational, it might just be something silly, right. But once again, they're getting a little, a little piece of me and the way that I approach things. And so by the time class starts, they are on the edge of a walk in. So last last fall, I walked into general entomology, and students are on the edge of their seats. And they're just staring wide eyed, like, what's he going to do? And I thought, This is great. And then I had this just flood of, Oh, crap, they expect the person that's in those videos to be the thing that's teaching them all the time. And you realize it's really tough to be that all the time, right? You can't, it can't be silliness all the time. That's my avatar.
But figuring out a way to sort of make short videos that we use to engage before a class and every once in a while during the class. And we do a lot of active learning kinds of strategies within the class as well, we have will act out things. So if we're talking about predator prey interactions, probably a bad example. But let's say if it's predator prey stuff, we might act out how that might work. And so we actually have one day where, you know, we've talked about 10 Different kinds of topics. And we have examples. And we break them up into 10, small groups, and I co teach this with another faculty member, Dr. Tom Phillips, and entomology and he is a wonderfully gifted actor. So he also sing, so he has a lot of talents. And so what we do is we have him he has to improv with every group. So if the group does a little skit that represents the example that they have, they get X amount of points. But if they, if they include Tom, in the, in the skit, they get a few extra points, right? And so they all want to include him, and he has to basically learn it immediately. Like he gets a little script that they've written out and goes, Okay, I'll do this. And he's just awesome, right? It's fake dying all over the floor and doing it. I mean, it's just wonderful in students respond incredibly well to these things. Because not only is it sort of fun, it's not just, it's not just sitting there. But now there is another way to take an example that we've talked about and work with in class, another process. And now they have another way to sort of visualize it. And it's very easy in their heads. And so on exams. They are there, they're obviously using it as a skeletal structure. A lot of times, oh, this was this thing. And this was how this worked. And so anyway, there's a lot of benefits to doing that.
Yeah. So I wanted to ask, I mean, so I'm going to put on a curmudgeon II hat for a moment. And it's about this. And so I, I'm a super fan of active learning, right, sort of, as you know, we've talked before, and I do lots of things in my classrooms too, right? Sort of teaching over the summer, and tomorrow, we've got, as part of the final, we've got a classroom activity, right. So we're, they got to basically do a simulation sort of thing, they're competing against one another. And that's part of the final, right. And so, I'm a fan of all this stuff. But these things take time to write. And, you know, there's, you know, if it's just pure silliness, or if it's like playing with Legos, or it's like acting something out, right, in some sense, that's time away from, like, real learning, right, you know, or the, like, the actual content and digging in, right. So, so there's always a little bit of at least, I mean, there's a trade off, right. And sometimes it's a big trade off, right. And so I know there are skeptics who look at these activities, in general, and depending on how far how fluffy as you say, the word you use earlier, how fluffy they get, right? It's easy to be very skeptical of those, right? So they have I do think they have to have an educational purpose, they have to play some sort of, like scaffolding role, like in the sense that then you can use them later. And it didn't just engage you and make you excited and make you think about it, but has to do something still right. That's my view anyway. So what do you think about this?
So I love this question, by the way, because I get it a lot. And there are lots of sort of offshoots of it. But But fundamentally, research shows that the the sort of normal way that we would go about teaching, and we think there's this idea that we think if we stand up in front of a classroom, and if we say A through Z, that the students are going to learn and understand a through z, it doesn't quite happen that it doesn't work that way, right. Research suggests something entirely different. And so it actually suggests that they're only getting a teeny tiny small bit of information. And if you think about what do you want to have happen in a particular course? Write what information do you really want them to have? Not just for a particular exam, but six months out a year out five years out, what do you want them to carry with them the rest of their life, they're not going to carry all that material, right, they're not going to take all the things that they memorized and crammed and dumped out on the exam. They're just not going to write. So we need to think very differently about the way that we approach our classes and go, you know, what, these are actually the important bits of information, these are the things that we're going to repeat, and look at and use in different kinds of ways. Because this is the thing that we want them to take with them, and that they're gonna remember six months, a year in five years out. And if you think about your course, that way, you actually have plenty of time to engage in ways that are going to help them remember those critical things. And so we don't do things that are 100%. Silly, right? But there are times when I'm entirely willing to do something that's maybe 80%, silly, because I know that 80% silliness, is going to translate a lecture or two or three down the road, that all of a sudden they go, Oh, wow. Now that makes complete sense. And now they have an activity, right? It's all about how do you go about building better neural networks, right. And I encourage my students, we talk about these things all the time, when it comes to studying or, or how it is it we're going to learn things best? Well, neuroscience suggests that smell is really critical, right. And so if you're going to go about studying a particular subject, it's always good to actually have a particular kind of candy or gum that has a particular flavor and smell that's associated with it, that you use when you study that particular thing. Also, it's best to try and pristine. Also, if you have a chance to work in a different kind of room or space. So you can look around the room. This is how people that do memory speed competitions, this is how they work, you have a mental room or house that you can go into. But actually, what's really important is we have a physical space. So where we're at right now, right, this little small space where the walls are completely blank is a horrible place to study, right? You would not want to be in this room. But if you were in the library, right, that had a lot of books and shelves and things that were on the wall, when you study a particular subject, you have a particular scent or flavor, you're looking at things you now have, you have something to go back to. And that's all that these activities A lot of times provide is an anchor, right? Because you're now experiencing that not just with sight, right? But you're, you're hearing it, you're smelling it every once in a while, there's tastes because we do some disgusting sorts of things sometimes with but I won't say disgusting. I enjoy eating insects, but for lots of them. It's disgusting. I mean, right? And so, but we do those kinds of things for a reason, right? We want it to be an experience, so they can pull all these things together. And so I really, really, like those kinds of things that are gonna allow them to remember and I know that if we do something in week one, and then on the final, if they're still talking about it, right, it's worked, right, it served its purpose. And that's how we do it. So I don't mind saying, you know, what, in a typical class, maybe you cover topics, you know, one through 100, right? Maybe in my class, I really drive home, maybe topics one to 30. Right, but I picked those 30. And all the other stuff is there, right? It's there, it's sort of they can cover it, we go over it. But for the most part, we focus on the important points. So they can use that information later. So we restructure things very differently. And not everybody does this. Right. And there are a lot of people that will that do say Well, that's not the way you should be done.
I think that's important, important point too. And so you do make sure that even if you aren't harping on everything, right, that they are exposed to it to some extent, because I worry that when we're always saying, well, information is ubiquitous now with the internet, and all of that, and we should be scaling back to make sure they really learn the things we want. That one of the points of the courses is not necessarily that you remember everything but that you're exposed to that try all of these things. So you know that they exist. That's right.
That's right. And so you have all the tools at your fingertips to be able to dive deep into something. And so you know, the right question to ask, right? Just because you have a ton of information about one particular thing doesn't mean that you know how to ask the right question. But if you're if a course is structured in a way that you you have sort of the you understand the processes and some of the critical information and you know how to ask the right kind of question, then you know, exactly the information to go find you're not you're not lost, and we have actually a lot of a lot of courses that are designed to go about how do you how do you diagnose problems, right? Our department head does a class, the insect pest diagnosis course. And he's approached that class very differently than the way it's normally taught. He basically approached it as a problem solver, we're going to go out and collect data information, you're going to, you're going to basically build your own sort of book, write your own little guide on how it is you can find problems. It's not just giving them the information, right? They're experiencing it. And students have actually not necessarily been a fan of that approach. Because they want to be, they want to be told, they don't want to have to explore and solve, right? Because it's not as easy. But you know, what is the thing that's going to help them in the long run? And so whether it's a, whether it's an approach that is like mine, that maybe students want to be engaged with, because they think, Oh, this is fun, or it's an approach that is exploratory, and they're like, Oh, why can't you just tell us the information? Why do I have to discover it myself? Because you know, what, if you discover it yourself, you're gonna, you're gonna know it, and you're gonna be able to use it later. Both are trying to get it exactly the same thing, you're approaching a problem differently, you're not just giving them a bunch of information, right?
And it's the skills and the tools to try out are there too, that are developing those into one of the hardest things is being able to transfer like learning something in one context, and then being able to use that information somewhere else that's like, super, super hard trying to transfer questions really hard. So, you know, we've been talking a lot about teaching about educational experiences, I wonder how you think this might translate into how people use science, right? I mean, so this is, you know, we were talking about global food systems here in general. And so we don't have to focus on that in particular, but you know, that I want to frame a little bit like, you know, we've talked about basic science, right. And so basic science, a lot of a lot of applied questions, like to eventually get to the application, you know, you have to have some people just doing basic research to it right? Here, we're talking sort of about education and learning, right, and sort of a lot of the problems of the world sort of depend not just on some experts doing things, or some industry doing things, but sort of, you know, all of us in understanding the problems and doing what our part to try to fix them. Right. I wonder how you think about how people use science, right? So, you know, in a regular, like, just in general, right, sort of like the general population, sort of, you know, how they absorb science, how they use it, how they think about it, right, and whether some of what we're talking about here might translate out into, to not just a student, but sort of to somebody who's not right now.
And that's right. And so in terms of sort of the general public outreach of the kinds of things that maybe we're doing, or just how does sort of the everyday person, how do they interpret science and right now, if we're, you know, 100%, honest, science is sort of under attack, right? The idea of, of how science is being used day to day, you know, when you have those that just want to say, the science is fake, it's not real, don't listen to it. What are you supposed to do in that context? Right? We're, we're in a place where science is viewed as maybe not reality, right? The things that are actually observed. And we do study say this, well, you know, what, if, if enough money is given over here, another study can say this other thing. And I'm going to believe that one instead of you know, these 1000 people that say, this is our, you know, sponsored thing over here is going to say something different. And so it's a very difficult sort of space to exist in. And so how do you reach people in a way that they feel comfortable with what it is that you're saying? It's a pretty fundamental question, right? And it turns out, for me, it really wasn't until this past year, since I started, you know, the YouTube channel and Twitter. And so, Twitter's been something very different for me, I was never sort of a social media sort of person, but looking at how individuals are being successful at doing really good science communication, to get out information and how is that being used and absorbed? And it turns out the reason that the general public largely doesn't like academics is because they, think we all think that we're somehow in an ivory tower and where we know everything, you know, nothing just Listen to us, it's combative. We approach it with an intellectual sort of mindset and try to give you facts. The other side is using emotion. And so I saw this. This what was it? I guess it was maybe in March, we had our science communication. We even hear it here. We had a keynote speaker that talked about one of the reasons that we're having such a difficult time getting across our sort of ideas and the data, the things that are real, right. It's not an opinion how the reason that we're losing is because we're fighting with facts, and they're fighting with emotion. Right? We need to be connecting emotionally, not just with facts, because the facts actually don't matter in a lot of cases, right? They want to, they ultimately want to believe the thing that sort of matches themselves don't matter. You mean for for, for whether or not what not a person in the general public is going to decide whether or not what's real and what isn't? Right? What actually is real doesn't doesn't oftentimes matter, they want the thing that sort of matches them. And is the thing that's made the emotional connection, right? If I made the connection that said, hey, you know, what, this thing is dangerous, if you do it, you might die, right? They they're making that connection, as opposed to, well, this, we've done a lot of studies, and they said, there's there, they're no, none of these Nisour negative side effects that do this, and that you're you're not using the same language, you're not using the same parts of the brain. And we make emotional decisions very, very quickly. Whereas rational ones take time to process. And so we're losing sort of the public battle, because we're not actually fighting and, and communicating with emotion. And so and that's, that's actually one of the things that when I look at, who are those that are sort of on academic Twitter and trying to get their, their message out the those that are being the most successful, you know, it's the ones that are trying to connect emotionally. And so if you look at that particular lens, you go, there, the reason that this is working, and then you look at those that are basically only sort of successful among other scientists, in essence, don't matter that much, right? You're doing a thing, it might be fine, you're connecting with people, there are some professional benefits, but you're not reaching the public. It's those that are doing the emotional parts. And so we think about how should the general public what should they think about science? Right now they're being told what to think about science from people that don't have science as a priority, or something that actually matters. So if science is going to matter, we need to be reaching the general public, emotionally.
Not just with facts and logic question. I mean, sort of, you know, a farmer wants to know, right, sort of, don't just be too academic on me, right? Like, tell me actually how this is important how this is useful, right? And right. So emotion isn't always just I think I mean, sounds right. It's not always just like, let me get you riled up. Yeah, it's like, speak to the things that I care about, too.
Yeah. I mean, no. And I want to, and I also want to get across the fact that that, you know, when you're when you're doing these things, it's that you care about that other, you care about the other person, you're not you're not approaching them as somehow as an enemy or that something is wrong. It is approaching sort of the no matter who you interact with, as in a caring way. And you're using, you're utilizing your sort of emotional skillset to get across a set of information that's going to benefit them, their family, those are the ways that we actually communicate the best.
So one of the things that I wanted to make sure we covered here, and so I can kind of tie it in with this is you are focusing on undergraduate research, too, right? I mean, that's taking up more and more of your time these days. Are you talking about these sorts of things with students right at the very beginning of their science education, because so many of us have been inculcated with the remove the emotion from it as part of our education. Right? So is that something you guys cover and focus on that program? So?
No. So because when I really care about the kinds of programs that we've been, the kind of program that we've been building for the last three years is really an introduction to how science works. Right? And so we try to remove a lot of barriers for students. So it's a small amount of time, it's only 10 hours over the entire semester, or over about 10 weeks. There's no cost for they don't have to sign up for it as a class.
And so low time this is particular this is a program that you're talking about.
Yeah, yeah, this is a program that we've developed and it will be across campus this fall. And hopefully, it's something that we end up growing to where a few 1000 students a year are running through the program. And because of my new position now, in directing undergraduate research across the university, I think we'll be successful and, and doing it. But what ends up happening is, if you try to remove as many barriers as possible, you also don't ask students to think originally on their first experience with science, it's sort of ridiculous that we would say, Oh, we're gonna have you sort of work in lab for a bit. And then, you know, if you come up with an idea, you can explore that. We barely ask that of our graduate students, why would we ask that of a brand new, or random undergraduate who's had no experience. So, we give them the small kinds of projects. So, they learn how to do something, they learn how to analyze data, to do a little bit of research on the topic, put together a scientific poster, and then we have them present through a poster symposium. And what's great is that, it doesn't really matter what the project is, right? Does it just, it just, it just doesn't matter? It does, they just, it's just going through the process of how science works. And then it's the confidence that they gain giving that particular poster because the first time they give it, it's not going to be all that wonderful. So they get a chance here, once again, this idea of sort of productive failure, they get to screw up a little bit, learn from that, and then someone comes around immediately, and they get a chance to present it again. And then they screw up a little bit less. And then they get to learn from that and do it all over again. And by the time they've given it four or five or six times the confidence they have and the way that they give their poster is entirely different than that very first one. And they leave there that confidence that they gained now, for lots of students that are sort of scared to even approach how to do science or get involved with a lab. They think, oh, I can't do it. I don't know what that is. Now they've gained that they feel that once again, it's the experience has given them emotional value, right? It's given them a sense of I can do this, and they're ready to take the next step.
And you're talking about getting students into doing research undergraduate students into doing research who might not have been thinking about it at all at all. Yeah, yeah. That's it just because you talked about the barrier, right? Yeah. We've got we've got undergraduates who are already ready to go and sort of totally into right, you know, the idea, and they want to do some research, and they know that that's a possibility and are there and then we've got other students who sort of somehow get picked out in a class, right? Or something happened yet. And then he started getting engaged in research, maybe a professor notices that or something like that. Right? Yeah. But then for the, you know, so many other students, right? They don't come in knowing this, or they don't come in, you know, they don't happen to have that sort of opportunity where they get, you know, they get into it, right. So what you're trying to do is to open up to every possibility statics, right, right, we can all get engaged and get some research and they kind of, kind of get their feet wet, maybe is that kind of the way. It's there?
Yeah, it is a we don't exclude anyone, right, everyone's welcome across all and we've had students from every possible major on campus participate in this upcoming fall, it'll span from, you know, dance, and music and theater, to philosophy to English. And then, you know, all the physics and biology and chemistry, I mean, every discipline will be involved. And having students, and this is sort of the the great part that sort of adds into that, that the interdisciplinary sort of dynamic as well is you may have a student that's in, you know, a sort of a classic STEM field, but they might actually want to do a research project, right, a scholarship project in English, or philosophy, or art or something else. Great. Those are the things that we want. So it turns out, roughly half the students that are involved in the program, have a very clear idea of I kind of want to do something in this area, the other half, really just want to explore, and those are the ones that we really try to sort of cross pollinate, we try to give them experiences that are outside of their major. Because we want them to gain that. Because you're gonna interact with that faculty member in that lab or that group or that department, whatever the case might be in a different kind of way. So yeah, we really want to make it as open as possible, give them that first taste, and really give them the confidence to take that next step. Even if for most of them, that next step isn't going to necessarily be in a STEM field or career.
I think that's an important point, right, is that you know, we sort of talk about the quote unquote, public a lot of these students if they get this, this experience are going to become the public. So giving you know, if you eliminate the barriers, give them a small project that still highlights the scientific process right now. Now we have a whole bunch of people who aren't going into research that now have a better understanding of what that is exactly. You talk a little bit about the scalability of this sort of thing.
Yeah. So right now, the sort of the great part about a project like this is that normally what we do with students is we bring them in, we spend, you know, three months, six months a year, sort of training them, and they get good at something, we hope to keep them in lab for two or three years, it's a, it's a great model for those students. And it's, something that we have to sort of continue to do. But it's entirely impractical. If you have, you know, 1000 faculty and 23, or 24,000. Students, you just can't do that. And so there needs to be another way to sort of approach allowing students to sort of gain this undergrad research experience. And so because these are such small time, things, they don't have to be novel, original kinds of things. It's just about process. A faculty member is maybe only committing two or three hours, right, maybe of that entire 10 hour project, maybe two or three hours. And if you do it, right, so I did 26, myself last fall, just me, goodness, anything is my goal before this new position was to do 50, myself this fall, and I still might try it, because if you do it right, you actually can work in small groups. And they're all just doing slight little variants of the same kind of project, they get to work together. So there's some peer mentoring that's involved as well. They do their thing, you work with them on their parts. So they're still getting some individual attention. But they're also getting a little bit of group attention as well. And they're working through the process. And so if you think about it differently, you can act one faculty member can actually serve, a lot of students are not just thinking, Oh, I have to really, the mindset is different for the pie. The way that we do this is not thinking about what's best for the pie, it's thinking about what's best for the student. And so if you can commit just a handful of hours, right, that's really all you're asking a handful of hours, to participate in a program that you're going to train, maybe a lot more students, I'm mostly asking faculty, if they're willing to do two, right? If you can do two, and then some say, oh, I can, I can probably do three or four, great, I love you, right, you'll be at the top of my list all the time. But I'll take whoever right, I'm just, I just want them to be involved. And the great part is, if you do this, right, you actually are finding new great students for your lab and for your colleagues, labs. And there, they end up going on there that they're sort of the you know, end up being the best students in your department you're like, and they came out of nowhere. And so we've had students, you know, we've grown our minor program, because of this. We have almost half of our graduate students in our department now have come from this program. Because we have those that are coming from other other disciplines that go, this is great, like we can, this is actually a career I can do this. And so the benefits, you think, well, if everyone does that there's not a net change across all departments. True. But now you're getting our students that are really excited and motivated about the work that they're doing. They end up being better students within your, within your department. And so the benefits that we've seen have been astronomical, just by being willing, our faculty and all of our all of our faculty and entomology participate. And a lot of the research scientists at the USDA are also involved and more will be involved this upcoming year just in terms sort of our group, but within entomology. And so they all see the value the person who just won the Truman Scholarship, right, Claire Wycoff, she's a she's an Ag Economics major she did our program is an entomology minor, gained a little bit of research experience working in a lab at the USDA, and her entire proposal built, built around sustainable ag and dealing with these wicked problems was right. So it's aligned from the UN report is built around the insect experience that she had for 10 weeks. And so when they released the letter saying, Oh, this wonderful student doing this, you know, a nice quarter of the press release was about her experience in our program. And so that's, those are the kinds of things that can happen, right? So we might think that they're small, and it may not be the same value as a larger sort of year or two long, sort of year experience, but they actually can be very transformative.
So what's an example of just a small project a student might do?
So, they are all over the place, right? So let's say that For me, I have had. So I will do this caveat, because I recruit from all over not everyone necessarily wants to do an entomology kind of project. I'm sort of the oddball in my department and the oddball in the college, my background is all over the place. So I've had a simple things where we've gone out with students and just surveyed insects on different kinds of plants to see sort of looking at Habitat usage done that a few afternoons, I've had students that really liked, you know, big cats at the zoo. And so we set up projects where they went to the zoo, and they observe big cat behavior. Three or four times over a couple of months, I've had education students that were interested in how videos how effective videos might be, or something like that. So we've had students do those sorts of things. We had a student who is a, in one of the majors in what was human ecology. I don't remember the name, its new name, but within human ecology, who was also an athlete, and so she did a survey on how sleep deprived athletes were versus non athletes, and how successful they thought they were in classes or something like that. I've had psychology students, because I'm, I enjoyed doing game theory, things like that. So we had two psychology students do a project where they were, we did a simple game, to look at cooperation versus cheating. And they basically tested some of their colleagues, they played the game, and some college students play the game. And then one of them worked at a nursing home. And they had they had this they had the, the residents there play the game, they their apothem, their hypothesis going into it was that the those that the nursing home would actually cooperate with each other much more. And it turns out, it was exactly the opposite, right? College students cooperate with each other wonderfully, and those in the nursing homes were just cheating each other left and right. And they thought it was the greatest thing in the world. And so it's, it's, these are things so what I like to do is I meet with every student individually, talk to him for 1530 minutes an hour, just depending on sort of what it needs to try to figure out. You know, who they are, what they're interested in what they want to do with their life, and then try to match them up with a faculty member. And then if I can match them up with somebody else, great. If not, I just take them myself. And then once I filled all the slots, because I don't turn anybody away, whoever keeps showing up, I just keep taking them, which is why I ended up with 26. Last year, it was only going to be like 10, I thought Well, 10 is petitions a breeze, and then it just kept growing. And so what I had them do in that case, so I had a lot of students, how do I actually handle so many at once, but I'm doing all these other things as well, is one of our labs, they have a ton of different strains of different species of, of little beetle, right, the little red flower beetle, right, which is a significant pest out of Tom Phillips lab. And so what we would do is say, so, doesn't do genetics, or environment matter, and how beetles grouped together. And so we basically had them use two different strains. And we set had them set them up to where they would either be associated with things that were their genetic, same type, or things that were genetically different, right, we had all sorts of possible combinations. And then we bring them we leave them like that for a couple of weeks. And we bring them all back together and look at how they associate and build groups. Do genetics matter? Does the environment matter? And it turns out, it's strain specific, right. So some strains will call up more with their own strain. And then other strains really like hanging out with other beetles. The year before, we tried this with actually different species. And there was one string that like the ride on the back of a weevil and we couldn't get it to stop in our little in our experiments and be like, Well, what do we call that? I mean, I don't they like to hang out for sure. I don't know what's going on. But it's it's it can really be anything right? None of that is are none of those are things that I normally do in my research, right? I've never been sort of my focus. But there are things that I know a little bit about, and it's enough to set up a small project that they're interested in. And then what's awesome is they then dig deeper themselves and they get a chance to really own that particular project. So that's how I approach those things.
That's awesome. That's really great. I'm glad you're doing that and you're scaling that up here on the university. We want to be respectful of your time we've been talking for a while now. Scott, John, do you have anything else you'd like to add?
No other than just it's fascinating and super valuable.
Is there anything we haven't covered or anything you'd like to say, before we sign off?
No, I think I've rambled pretty good. So no, I'm good.
Well, Hey Jeremy. We really appreciate it. This is great work. We look forward to chatting again. Awesome, thanks. I appreciate it.
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