Archive | January 2014

Out of the lab and into the fray

In mentioning the word “scientist” when describing one’s self, one runs the risk of evoking an image of an individual in a white lab coat, staring into a microscope, using a vocabulary so specific that she would have a better chance of finding someone on the street that could speak a lost dialect of English than one that could understand her, and a person that is so far removed from everyday life that in the unfortunate event she encountered a layperson she would struggle to find anything in common to speak of. While the degree to which these preconceptions are true can be debated, whether they would like it or not the scientists of today are being forced out of the perceived comfort zones of their labs and into the fray of the general public.

The documentary entitled “Silence of the labs” by The Fifth Estate (CBC, 2014) was a wake up call to those who were not closely following Canadian news over the past few years. For those that were, it was an affirmation of what many of us have been thinking all along, that the Harper government has an agenda that is being hampered by science and, as a result, funding is being drastically cut and the capacity for scientists to convey their findings to the public is being stripped. While some targeted research like the Experimental Lakes Area might have fuelled support for industry regulation (and if one waded through the details of the omnibus bills passed last year they would see de-regulation as a common theme), The Fifth Estate describes an anthropological project in northern Canada that was uncovering an inconvenient history for a nation whose government is bent on exploiting the resources of a disputed territory, research that was making global headlines and has since been shut down.

Perhaps one contributing factor for this authoritarian-like control over public research is explained by Alister Scott (2007) when she describes a change that has been occurring in recent decades. She argues that publicly-funded research before the 1990s was more narrowly focussed on generating wealth and making direct improvements in the quality of life, whereas modern research has an obligation to serve society more broadly by finding solutions for often-complicated problems that can span disciplines. It might be understandable, then, why this government is no longer supporting scientists for they are becoming too focussed on addressing relevant issues that society actually cares about but that many in government would rather ignore. 

As Gerry Reed said, “we have a long way to go, and a short time to get there (Orr, 2010)”, which may explain why some scientists are now feeling the urgency to voice their opinions on purported muzzling of government scientists. A recent rally in Ottawa raising awareness of this issue (supposedly organized and attended by scientists) was a novel expression of the frustration that surely many scientists feel since, at its core, science is objective and thus free of politics. One could surmise that some of the reluctance scientists might have towards speaking out publicly on the issue has to do with the hidden curriculum of their respective institutions (Mossop et al. (2013) describe this concept nicely). Specifically, I wonder if some researchers hesitate to engage in political affairs out of concern for what others from their affiliated institutions might say or think. While an institution may not explicitly state that scientists are not to speak publicly on the issue of muzzling, the fact that nobody is could be discouraging the very act. Of course, the flip side of this is that once some scientists have spoken publicly on the issue (and have subsequently managed to retain their jobs), then the hidden curriculum will begin teaching this as an acceptable practice.

While some dramatically warn us of an impending “nightmare” that scientists are perceived to be predicting (Jamail, 2013), many want science to be free to objectively explore the important issues of today, irrespective of political agendas. Misconstrued information and lies are running amok on the internet, exploiting the vacuum that grows stronger with every silenced researcher. In an environment that would rather them study oil extraction technology than socioecological impacts of oil spills, it is no wonder then why these elusive creatures are beginning to crawl out of their dens and into the the public eye. Science has been under attack since its conception by those who feel threatened by it, and there is little doubt that the scientists of today will sit idle while the powers at be assure us that the earth is flat.

Literature Cited

Canadian Broadcast Corporation. “Silence of the Labs”. Aired January 10, 2014. Retrieved on January 22, 2014 from http://www.cbc.ca/fifth/episodes/2013-2014/the-silence-of-the-labs

Jamail, D. The Coming ‘Instant Planetary Emergency’: How will climate change affect the future of the planet? Scientists predict it will be nothing short of a nightmare. December 17, 2013. Retrieved on January 22, 2014 from http://www.thenation.com/article/177614/coming-instant-planetary-emergency

Mossop, L., Dennick, R., Hammond, R. & Robbe, I. 2013. Analysing the hidden curriculum: use of a cultural web. Medical Education, 47; 134-143.

Orr, D. “This I Believe – David Orr.” Posted January 26, 2010. Retrieved on January 22, 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6z-Ln0vc20

Scott, A. 2007. Peer review and the relevance of science. Futures, 39; 827-845.

Advertisements

Selective Mutism: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Impact Factor

There is an unwritten rule in academia that good research, however you may define it, is less important than published research.  This does not preclude good research being the backbone of the academic world, but rather suggests the priorities of science, as a paradigm, have shifted.  Specifically, to the rule of publishing as much as you can (Elizabeth & Grant, 2013).   This trend has roots both in the audit culture and modern political structure, particularly in Canada.

An increasing focus on ‘numbers’ outside of the academic world has bled in to the most hallowed halls of higher thinking.  A major component of evaluating researcher’s quality is quantity of publications, the dreaded impact factor (Burrows, 2012).  The more you publish, the better your evaluation.  This audit culture forces researchers to, as Burrows (2012) says, either “’play’ or ‘be played’” (p. 369).  The implication is an increasing number of academics publishing to add a line on their CV, rather than to solve or study some novel question (“The cost of salami slicing”, 2005).  Either you keep publishing or you drop out of the race.

This is arguably an even bigger concern for new researchers, who have the added challenges of navigating both an unknown world and limited resources.  The poor student cliché exists for a reason.  Articles describing quick tips on how to boost your resume in graduate school and the need for social income services  after graduating, demonstrate the necessity of playing by the rules to increase your chances of paying rent (Keslky, 2012; Patton, 2012; Utell, 2011).  Publish as much as you can, as early as you can. Science for the sake of science seems to be an antiquated concept.  As Scott (2007) states, in his article on peer review processes, being published relies heavily on having conclusive results and complex problems rarely have conclusive answers.  Supervisors may need to push students to research simpler concepts, those that minimize political, temporal and financial burdens, in order to publish.

A key phrase in that last sentence, political burdens, is a concern for both new and experienced academics.  Being funded, and therefore producing any form of publications, relies increasingly on government approval, especially for those researchers working in the public sector.  The recent documentary on the Canadian government’s disregard for academia, “The Silence of the Labs”, demonstrates the danger of this influence (Rumak, 2014).  Not just in social arenas like public health, but archaeological and environmental fields. If research even slightly contradicts the message the Harper government wants to put forward, large-scale cuts and eventual job loss may result (Rumak, 2014).  The mantra should be ‘get published not political’.  Researchers have to operate under some assumption of topical, selective mutism.

The question comes down to this, at a personal level, is ‘doing’ science our job?  Are we just working at our chosen employment or are we attempting to understand and help the world?  If the former, the pressure to publish is still a personal challenge but not a systemic problem.  If the latter, there is a much greater barrier.  Your core ideals about what you think you are doing  do not match up with the day-to-day realities of your work.  Even a blending of both views of science can lead one to disenchantment (Elizabeth & Grant, 2013).

In conclusion, I do not want to suggest that academia is in a constant state of dredging up simple and repetitive research, but that as we allow the influence of audit culture and political preferences to seep in to the academic world, we lose what makes us important.  That is our ability to objectively examine and answer questions about the world around us.  It may be naïve to suggest that science should help people or the world, but I hope at the very least we do not end up ignoring what needs to be researched in favour of what is easy to research and ultimately publish.

 

References

Burrows, R. (2012). Living  with the h-index? Metric assemblages in the contemporary academy. The Sociological Review, 60(2), 355-372.

Elizabeth, V. & Grant, B.M.(2013). ‘The spirit of research has changed’: reverberations from researcher identities in managerial times. Higher Education Research & Development, 32( 1), 122–135.

Kelsky, K. (2012, March 27). Graduate school is a means to a job – manage your career. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-Is-a-Means-to/131316

Patton, S. (2012, May 6). The PhD now comes with food stamps. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795

Rumak, O.J. (Producer & Director). (2014, January 10). Silence of the Labs [Motion picture]. Canada: Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Scott, A. (2007). Peer Review and the Relevance of Science. Futures, 39(7), 827–845.

“The cost of salami slicing.” Editorial. (2005). Nature materials, 4(1), 1.

Utell, J. (2011, February 25). Practical wisdom and professional life. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/practical-wisdom-and-professional-life/31442

Reflection 2: Peer review, metrics, and the audit culture

Peer review is one of my most feared subjects, especially when it comes in submitting research abstracts, presentations, and/or study protocols. I fear my peers review because of exact same reasons that are identified in Lamont’s research, which is described by Scott Jaschik in the “The ‘Black Box’ of Peer Review” article posted in Inside Higher Education – “judgment on proposals is clouded by their (professors) own personal interests, deal making among panelists to make sure decisions are made in time for panelists to catch their planes, and an uneven and somewhat unpredictable efforts by panelists to reward personal drive and determination over qualities that a grant program says are the actual criteria”. Although part of my brain felt relieved to learn that there are some research findings that supported my personal thoughts/fears on this subject, my other part of the brain felt gloomy. Due to my work in public health field of Mongolia I collaborate with many national and international professionals to prepare and submit grant proposals to various funding agencies inside and outside of the country. Therefore, I have found this article to be insightful in educating me on how reviewers think and work. Yet, the most interesting part of this reading was going through comments that people left on this site. The comments ranged from those who supported the research findings of M. Lamont –Wondering – to SS, who disagreed.

I had so many laughs when I watched Catharine Cross performance called “Why peer review is like your extended family” on youtube and when I read “When Peer Review Turns Frustrated Authors Into Hilarious Editorialists”. C. Cross used humor to describe main comments that we receive from our peer review committees and I thought her comparison of these comments with comments that we receive from our families was funny and smart. The last reviewer comments in the “When Peer Review Turns Frustrated Authors Into Hilarious Editorialists” spoke to me because I wrote the same comment in one my review and reading the part on How Not to respond, I realized this is how an author felt when he/she read my review comment.

I was bored reading the “Tenure’s Dirty Little Secret” by Milton Greenbergand I actually questioned myself and here my reflections on why I was not taken by this article. First of all, it discussed the tenure subject in American colleges and universities; secondly, academia is not a field that I wish to work in, and thirdly, I didn’t see any solution for the subject of tenure that M. Greenberg was addressing in his article. Then, it occurred to me that I should learn to stregch my limits and try to broaden my knowledge about different topics in other countries. If I plan to become knowledge translating person I should enrich myself with knowledge that myself may not benefit but others could use it at a great gain. So I have tried to use “peer review” approach in re-reading this article and prepared my review. I did re-read it and came to a conclusion that Milton Greenberg was describing this tenure situation in American education system, which is known to all but he has failed to provide his answers on how this tenure issue could be solved. Perhaps, I wasn’t a good peer reviewer.

 

 

 

Jaschik S. The ‘black box’ of peer review.  Inside Higher Education, Mar. 4, 2009. [read comments, too]http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2009/03/04/peerreview

Scott, Alister (2007), “Peer Review and the Relevance of Science”, Futures 39, 827–845.

Cross, Kate, on peer review. [Stand-up comedian & research fellow, at Bright Club, Edinburgh.] http://www.apeer.org/ Aug. 20, 2012

http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=qf8Tw80kerA

http://www.nature.com/scitable/blog/labcoat-life/when_peer_review_turns_frustrated

Greenberg, Milton. Tenure’s dirty little secret. Chron Higher Educ, Jan. 1, 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/Tenures-Dirty-Little-Secret/130185/

 

Reflection 1: Education as socialization

I have read with a great interest several articles from the list of readings for second class of our course, HSCI902 and watched a speech of David Orr, and have been thinking a lot about them in past weeks. I appreciated array of different perspectives on education that these readings have provided for me. The Wikipedia definitions and descriptions of different learning methods have made me think about my own ways of learning and reflect how I learn the best and what. The “Graduate School Is a Means to a Job” article by Karen Kelsky was, in my opinion, typical, American business-like writing, which had many valuable recommendations to consider for a potential graduate student, so I took a mental notes of them and also have shared the link with my daughter, who is planning to start her graduate study. The “Practical Wisdom and Professional Life” post by Janine Utell draw my special attention because Dr. Utell teaches English at Widener University, the same university I went to back in 2004. The world is becoming so small! Her review of Drs. Schwartz and Sharpe’s book Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thin endorsed my belief that I am happier when I can see a meaning in my work and try to do my work good and well. The “Analyzing the hidden curriculum: use of a cultural web” by Liz Mossop, Reg Dennick, Richard Hammond and Iain Robbe broaden my knowledge about qualitative methods used in evaluation education curriculum. When I watched the speech by David Orr “This I believe”, it touched me with its honesty describing USA education situation theme, which in a way was co-echoed in Dr. Patton’s article.

Just like Mr. Stegall from “The Ph.D Now Comes With Food Stamps” article, written by Stacey Patton and published in The Chronicles of Higher Education, I came from a family, where knowledge, higher education and hard working were always valued and expected from each member of the family. Hence, all my siblings, including myself, have graduate degrees, fluent at least in two foreign languages and we constantly working full time during a week and on weekends.

I consider us to be very fortunate individuals, who have had unique opportunity to learn and receive education from two, completely different, at that time, systems: former Soviet Union and Western, which includes the United States and Canadian higher education institutions. Both systems have offered rich sources of knowledge and skills, and in both systems we all learned from various formal, non-formal and informal settings. From the formal learning in Russia I have received strong basis for my knowledge as a citizen of the socialist system, from non-formal and informal learning I did learn how to behave as a female. From the formal learning in USA and Canada I have enriched and expanded my knowledge as a citizen of the world, and strengthened my mental and social skills, such as critical and logical thinking, communication, listening and asking questions.

I believe that all people have access to learning and there are many learning sessions happen every day in our life but it all depends from an individual him/herself whether we take these learning lessons or not, and whether we use it or not. I find it sad when people are given opportunities to receive good education but in the end they don’t work in their educated areas, or society doesn’t offer them an environment to transfer their knowledge to others. Education is important only if we could use it, apply it and share/transfer its core to others.

Informal learning. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_learning

Mossop L et al., Analysing the hidden curriculum: use of a cultural web. Med Educ. 2013 February; 47(2): 134–143.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3562476/

Kelsky, K. Graduate school is a means to a job – manage your career. Chronicle of Higher Educ 2012 (Mar 27). http://chronicle.com/article/Graduate-School-Is-a-Means-to/131316

Utell J. Practical wisdom and professional life. Chron Higher Educ 2011. Feb 25, 2011. http://chronicle.com/blogs/profhacker/practical-wisdom-and-professional-life/31442

Patton, Stacey. The PhD now comes with food stamps. May 6, 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/From-Graduate-School-to/131795

 

From Medical School to Community Practice: the Hidden Curriculum and Midwifery Education

Passion, Justice, and the “Hidden Curriculum”

Over the past couple of weeks I have had excellent discussions with midwifery colleagues on the cultural, ideological, and psychological changes student midwives experience as they navigate the “hidden curriculum” in medical education.   In 1998 Hafferty defined the hidden curriculum as “a set of influences that function at the level of organizational structure and culture” (Hafferty, 1998, p. 404); Mossop et al (2013) build on Hafferty’s work, applying the concept of the cultural web to reveal core elements of the hidden curriculum, including “routines”, “rituals”, “control systems”, and “power structures” (p. 135) as important influences on the development of the professional identity, authoritative knowledge, and clinical practice.

In 2003 I began the UBC Midwifery Education Program eager to expand upon my women’s health activism and social justice work. The daily rituals and routines of obstetrics in the hospital environment moulded me into a practitioner with a high level of functioning in the tidy boxes of obstetric diagnoses and distanced me from the messy world of the social determinants of health. My rotations in Maternal Fetal Medicine and Obstetrics left me very comfortable in world of rare obstetric complications and high-level medical interventions, with a tool-box full of medical knowledge and technological skills.  In keeping with the call of Paul Glasziou et al (2011), I did experience my UBC medical education as a “life course”; we were taught to be life-long medical learners, to critically appraise medical literature, to convey this vast literature to our patients, and formulate evidence-based clinical care plans. However, I chose to go to midwifery school, not to medical school!  It took me 5 years post-graduation to realize that the practitioner I had become was not the practitioner I aspired to be, and that the radical traditions of midwifery I loved were not actively being reflected in my daily practice.

A Life-Long Learner: Back to the Community

My midwifery education was fraught by challenges; my world shrank as I was increasingly immersed in the hospital delivery ward, and my visions of social justice became increasingly focussed on preventing maternal morbidity and mortality.  When I graduated I faced serious questions of whether or not it was even possible to use my knowledge and skills in the service of greater good, in the reclamation of woman-centered birth culture, to challenge the positivist nature of biomedical epistemology, and to open up possibilities of meaningful social transformation.

Midwifery can be considered a radical tradition with deep affinity towards a process Shultz describes as a “battle” to “include indigenous knowledges as legitimate epistemic contributions” (2013, p. 47).   Advanced medical technology and practice has the potential to save many lives in the birthing room, but this same medical system continues to play an important role in the oppression of women, in colonial and neo-colonial expansion, unsustainable ‘development’, and the active suppression of different ways of knowing and cultural healing practices.

Werners To Learn Is To Change

David Werner, Where There Is No Doctor

My year spent working in community-based health programs in peasant communities was a painful and wonderful challenge to my limited ‘Western’ midwifery practice.  In the real world of exploited and oppressed peasant communities maternal mortality is indeed an important site of struggle, but ultimately this struggle is dwarfed by greater problems of severe hunger, land theft and landlessness, feudal exploitation, militarization, and political repression.

Midwifery, Solidarity, and Education as a Problem-Solving Process

Now I work in a small collective of midwives who support me in striving to combine midwifery activism and social justice, connecting imperatives to transform birth culture, empower systemically-marginalized families, build communities based on collaboration, and stand in solidarity with indigenous struggles.  For our collective, our ongoing midwifery education is a daily practice centered in the communities we serve.  As a collective we seek to break out of the confines of our professional practice and find a deeper meaning for midwifery (Uttal, 2011) through engaging our communities on how to work together to solve the major crisis facing the Western ‘culture’ of childbirth where cesarean section rates surpass 40% in some hospitals (PSBC, 2014) and maternal morbidity includes post-traumatic stress disorder from iatrogenic birth trauma and state-led child apprehensions.

I hope that the midwifery students in our practice have a refreshing experience of a different sort of ‘hidden curriculum’ grounded in human rights, liberatory epistemology, and community-based health and healing practice.  While discussions on the role of the ‘hidden curriculum’ have been inspiring for me these past weeks, I’d like to deepen these conversations to include the ‘hidden histories’ of Western educational institutions and the ‘hidden structures’ that shape our world.  Midwives have the potential to transform birth culture, learn from different views and cultures of birth, and stand in solidarity with indigenous communities demanding their rights and protecting our planet from imminent destruction, but only if we give it our concerted efforts.

References:

  1. Glasziou, P.P., Sawicki, P.T., Prasad, K., & Montori, V.M. (2011).  Not a Medical Course, but a Life Course.  Academic Medicine, 86(11), p. e4.
  2. Hafferty, F.W. (1998). Beyond Curriculum Reform: Confronting medicine`s hidden curriculum. Academic Medicine, 73(4), pp. 402-407.
  3. Mossop, L. Dennick, R., Hammond, R., & Robbe, I. (2013).  Analysing the Hidden Curriculum: Use of a cultural web.  Medical Education, 74, pp. 134-143.
  4. Perinatal Services BC.  (2014). Perispectives [On-line Newsletter].  January 6, 2014. Available here.
  5. Schultz, L. (2013). Engaged Scholarship in a Time of the Corporatization of the University and Distrust of the Public Sphere: A decolonizing response.  In, Shultz, L. & Kajner, T. (Eds.), Engaged Scholarship: The politics of engagement and disengagement.  Comparative and International Education (Series Title). Dordrecht, Netherlands: SensePublishers.
  6. Utell, J.  (2011).  Practical Wisdom and Professional Life.  The Chronicle of Higher Education [On-Line Journal]. February 25, 2011.  Available here.