Saturday, July 19, 2014

contaminated time

Today I'd like to share a blog where no science or university topics are discussed. Little Eco Footprints is written by Tricia since quite a few years now and she mainly focuses on "learning to live better with less". I stumbled over her blog shortly after we had arrived in Australia with just two suitcases of clothes and two laptops. I loved having not so much stuff around me and instead more space in our apartment. It felt like I'd have more freedom. But things piled up quickly and I still wonder how it happened that by now all our shelves and cupboards are full again. Tricia wrote a lot of great articles about how to deal with this issue and how to live better and more creative with less.
Her latest post resonated with me, because it deals with the contamination of time. This feeling that I'm not living in the moment, I'm not appreciating the here and now, because my head is already checking the next few tasks on my to-do list, is getting stronger during the last years. The days pass and I often can hardly remember what I have done during the day, because all the things I (think I) still have to do block my sight. Especially now that I have not only my own things on my list, but all the stuff for the LittleOne as well. The weeks just fly by and I forget to take time to sit back and reflect about the moment. I've often heard that it is necessary to set time aside for leisure and breaks and private stuff. Sometimes I manage to do that and I know that it refuels my batteries like nothing else and my brain can again create interesting ideas. But I need more practice and constant reminders like Tricia's blog post to make what's now an occasional event a fixed habit. It will not get easier when I return to the office.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

science & philosophy

I've been catching up on interesting bits and pieces about science, universities, gender equality,... that I missed during the last few months. A piece that got me thinking a lot is the Pub-Style Science Hangout from April. The topic was " Philosophy and Science" and it was an hour long discussion about the concept of the scientific method, if there is something like basic rules all scientist do/should follow in their research, what these rules are, how much our perception of "what is good science" is influenced by the labs we've been working in or our cultural background.
We scientists often enough think we are a notch smarter than most other people and with this much more aware of how the world functions and all the not so obvious cog wheels contributing to this. And of course we know how research should be done such that the results lead to rational explanations about the world around us - unbiased, based on a sound and logic foundation. We are convinced that our research is not influenced by our personalities or the way we approach it. But how can we be so sure about that? At least I have not spend much thought on these aspects of my research and I'm sure the majority of my colleagues has neither.
The scientific method and the philosophic concepts behind "doing science" were never a topic during my undergrad education. The curriculum contained an optional course about Science Philosophy for 3rd year students. None of us took it, because at the time it did not seem to be important knowledge. However, in hindsight it could have offered me a totally different view on my thesis research and the following years in my PhD lab. 
As an undergrad the science world is usually very small. Maybe one has been abroad for some studies, maybe one has changed to a different university. Some people have the opportunity to actually work in a lab as student assistants during their undergrad years, but for most people the thesis research is the first "real science" they do. If you ask them about science and philosophy, they might come up with ideas about ethics - don't copy and paste work of somebody else. But to realize that the way science is done is dependent on the specific lab, the people in the lab, the supervisor, the faculty, the university and the whole cultural background takes at least a project in a different lab or a close collaboration outside the well known orbit. These differences include the usage of different methodologies to answer the same question, as well as the way a research hypothesis is developed (if at all), the way collaboration takes place (if at all) and the attention that is given to ethical questions (if at all). To realize that the way science is done in my lab is not the Holy Grale, but just one shade of a very broad spectrum, can broaden the view and maybe lead to new, innovative approaches to research. Not only for the students but for researchers in general. During my education and even until now there has never been an offer from the universities side to discuss this topic - a great opportunity missed to encourage the critical thinking we all hold so high.
Maybe it's common at other universities to discuss the philosophical aspects of science and research with the students or even with the faculty members? I'd love to hear about it!