Tag Archives: science technology engineering mathematics

Women and Girls at the Intersection of Innovation and Opportunity webcast May 21, 2014

The webcast, Women and Girls at the Intersection of Innovation and Opportunity, takies place at 2 pm EDT (11 am PDT). I find the information about access to the webcast confusing in this EIC network May 21, 2014 announcement,

Live Webcast on EICnetwork.tv’s Science Engineering & Technology Channel from TV  [emphasis mine]
Worldwide Studios Near Washington D.C.
Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 2 PM ET

The Manufacturing Institute and EICnetwork.tv are kicking off the summer with a special webcast focusing on Women and Girls in STEM + the Arts. The webcast will be hosted on Wednesday, May 21st, live from the EICnetwork.tv studio in Chantilly, VA at 2pm ET, with a studio audience of students from the greater DC/VA area. It will be made available for later viewing immediately following the live event. [emphasis mine]

Featured panelists include Harris IT Services Director of Human Resources, Patricia Munchel; Harris IT Services Line of Business Lead & Program Manager for Health and Human Services/Clinical Research Support, Elena Byrley; Director of Communications at The Manufacturing Institute (a division of the National Association of Manufacturing), AJ Jorgenson; Brittney Exline, the youngest African-American female computer engineer in the US, and female leadership from Lockheed Martin’s space division.

This is an incredible opportunity to support excellent Internet TV program content reaching a wide audience of students, educators, policy leaders, academia, news media, mentors, entertainment writers, and executives who support initiatives in STEM + the Arts.

Perhaps the writer meant that if you don’t catch the live webcast, you can view it later?

I have found out more about EIC (Entertainment Industries Council) and its various projects, from the About page (Note: Links have been removed),

The Entertainment Industries Council, Inc. (EIC) is a non-profit organization founded in 1983 by leaders in the entertainment industry to provide information, awareness and understanding of major health and social issues among the entertainment industries and to audiences at large.

EIC represents the entertainment industry’s best examples of accurately depicting health and social issues onscreen in feature films, TV and music videos, in music and within the pages of comic books. A look at our Board of Directors and Trustees will reveal the entertainment industry’s commitment to incorporating science-based information into storylines to make them as believable–and beneficial to the viewer–as possible, and to heighten entertainment value.

EIC not only represents the best creative works that come out of Hollywood, New York and beyond; we take an active role in helping entertainment creators maximize the realistic attributes of health and social issues in their productions. EIC provides educational services and resources, including First Draft™ briefings and consultations, publications that spotlight specific health issues, Generation Next™ film school briefings and fellowships, and much, much more.

EIC also produces the PRISM Awards™, EDGE Awards™ and other recognition programs that serve to recognize and reinforce our industry’s hard work and great accomplishments in depicting health and social issues realistically, but also in an entertaining way. It is our belief that the majority of Americans–and people all over the world–are most receptive to information when it is provided in an easily digestible way. with today’s health and social issues, substance abuse and addiction, gun violence, mental illness, depression, suicide, bipolar disorder and HIV/AIDS, constantly rising cancer rates and so many more, making a difference through entertainment is a powerful tool to reach millions of people. EIC is the link between the science and the entertainment, and enables communication between scientists and the creative community, and facilitates communication from them to the public.

EIC educates, serves as a resource to, and recognizes the incredible writers, directors, producers, performers and others who are committed to making a difference through their art.

I also looked at the Board of Directors list and found a familiar sounding name, Michele Lee (from her EIC Board of Directors biography page),

A founding Board Director of the Entertainment Industries Council, Inc., this thriving star of Broadway, film and television has diversified since completing her nine year stint as Karen McKenzie on Knot”s Landing. Now an accomplished filmmaker, she was the first woman to ever write, produce, direct and star in a movie for television. A 1998 recipient of the Larry Stewart Leadership and Inspiration Award, she has long served as the “voice of EIC” – a passion which continues in her role on the PRISM Awards Honorary Committee.

Congratulations Ms. Lee on reinventing yourself.

About GoldiBlox, the Beastie Boys, girls in science, and intellectual property

This story about GoldiBlox, was supposed to be a ‘feel good’ piece about the company, girls,  and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)—but that was last week. At this point (Nov. 26, 2013), we can add a squabble over intellectual property (copyright) to the mix.

GoldiBlox, a company that makes engineering toys for girls (previously mentioned in my Dec. 6, 2012 posting) has produced an advertisement that has been attracting a lot of interest on the internet including this Nov. 19, 2013 story by Katy Waldman for Slate (Note: Links have been removed),

This is a stupendously awesome commercial from a toy company called GoldieBlox, which has developed a set of interactive books and games to “disrupt the pink aisle and inspire the future generation of female engineers.” The CEO, Debbie Sterling, studied engineering at Stanford, where she was dismayed by the lack of women in her program. (For a long look at the Gordian knot that is women’s underrepresentation in STEM fields,  … . Sterling wants to light girls’ inventive spark early, supplementing the usual diet of glittery princess products with construction toys “from a female perspective.”

We love this video because it subverts a bunch of dumb gender stereotypes—all to the strains of a repurposed Beastie Boys song. [emphasis mine] In it, a trio of smart girls could not be less impressed by the flouncing beauty queens in the commercial they’re watching. So they use a motley collection of toys and household items (including a magenta feather boa and a pink plastic tea set) to assemble a huge Rube Goldberg machine. …

Here’s the video (no longer available with Beastie Boys parody song as of Nov. 27, 2013; I have placed the latest version at the end of this posting),,

You can find GoldieBlox here.

Things have turned a little since Waldman’s rapturous story. The Beastie Boys do not want their music to be used in advertisements, of any kind. From Christina Chaey’s Nov. 25, 2013 article for Fast Company,

Beastie Boys members Mike D and Ad-Rock, who survive the late Adam “MCA” Yauch, have issued the following open letter addressed to GoldieBlox:

Like many of the millions of people who have seen your toy commercial “GoldieBlox, Rube Goldberg & the Beastie Boys,” we were very impressed by the creativity and the message behind your ad. We strongly support empowering young girls, breaking down gender stereotypes and igniting a passion for technology and engineering.

As creative as it is, make no mistake, your video is an advertisement that is designed to sell a product, and long ago, we made a conscious decision not to permit our music and/or name to be used in product ads. When we tried to simply ask how and why our song “Girls” had been used in your ad without our permission, YOU sued US.

Chaey’s article goes on to document responses from other musicians about this incident and notes that GoldiBlox has not commented.

Techdirt’s Mike Masnic, also has a Nov. 25, 2013 article on the topic where he notes that neither party has filed suit  (at least, not yet),

Now, it is true that some in the press have mistakenly stated that the Beastie Boys sued GoldieBlox, and that’s clearly not the case. GoldieBlox filed for declaratory judgment, which is a fairly standard move after someone claims that you violated their rights. It’s not a lawsuit seeking money — just to declare that the use is fair use. While the Beastie Boys say they made no threat or demand, the lawsuit notes that their letter (which still has not been revealed in full) made a direct claim that the video was copyright infringement, and also that this was a “big problem” that has a “very significant impact.”

As Masnick goes on to mention (Note: A link has been removed),

.. in fact, that in Adam Yauch’s  [deceased band member] will, it explicitly stated that none of their music was ever to be used in advertising. And, from the Beastie Boys’ open letter, it appears that was their main concern.

But, here’s the thing: as principled as Yauch was about this, and as admirable as it may be for him and the band to not want their music appearing in advertisements that does not matter under the law. If the use is considered fair use, then it can be used. Period. There is no clause in fair use law that says “except if someone’s will says otherwise.” The very point of fair use is that you don’t need permission and you don’t need a license.

Sometimes (often) the resolution to these disagreements has more to do with whomever can best afford legal costs and less to do with points of law, even if they are in your favour. From Masnick’s article,

I’ve spoken to a bunch of copyright lawyers about this, and almost all of them agree that this is likely fair use (with some arguing that it’s a totally clear-cut case). Some have argued that because it’s an advertisement for a company that precludes any possibility of fair use, but that’s absolutely not true. Plenty of commercial efforts have been considered fair use, and, in fact, many of the folks who rely the most on fair use are large media companies who are using things in a commercial context.

It’s nice when the good guys are clearly distinguishable from the bad guys but it appears this may not entirely be the case with GoldiBlox, which apparently believes it can grant licences to link to their website, as per Mike Masnick’s Nov. 26, 2013 Techdirt posting on the topic (Note: Links have been removed),

… as noted in Jeff Roberts’ coverage of the case over at Gigaom, it appears that Goldieblox might want to take a closer look at their own terms of service, which makes some absolutely ridiculous and laughable claims about how you can’t link to their website …

… Because just as you don’t need a license to create a parody song, you don’t need a license to link to someone’s website.

I do hope things work out with regard to the parody song and as for licencing links to their website, that’s just silly.  One final note, Canadians do not have ‘fair use’ provisions under the law, we have ‘fair dealing’ and that is a little different. From the Wikipedia essay on Fair Dealing (Note: Links have been removed),

Fair dealing is a statutory exception to copyright infringement. It is a defence, with the burden of proof upon the defendant.

Should I ever learn of the outcome of this GoldiBlox/Beastie Boys conflict I will provide an update.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013: GoldiBlox has changed the soundtrack for their video as per the Nov. 27, 2013 article by Kit Eaton for Fast Company,

The company explains it has replaced the video and is ready to quash its lawsuit “as long as this means we will no longer be under threat from [the band's] legal team.”

Eaton has more quotes from the letter written by the GoldiBlox team in his article. For the curious, I have the latest version of the commercial here,

I don’t think the new music is as effective but if I remember the video properly, they’ve made some changes and I like those.

ETA Nov. 27, 2013 (2): I can’t believe I’m adding material to this posting for the second time today. Ah well. Katy Waldman over at Slate has weighed in for the second time with a Nov. 27, 2013 article discussing the Beastie Boys situation briefly while focussing primarily on whether or not the company actually does produce toys that encourage girls in their engineering and science efforts. It seems the consensus, such as it is, would be: not really. Not having played with the toys myself, I have no worthwhile opinion to offer on the topic but you might want to check Waldman’s article to see what more informed folks have to say.

Mary Elizabetth Williams in her Nov. 27, 2013 article for Salon.com seems more supportive of the Beastie Boys’ position than the Mike Masnick at Techdirt. She’s also quite critical of GoldieBlox’s open letter mentioned in today’s first ETA. I agree with many of her criticisms.

Hopefully, this will be it for this story.

Celebrate women in science on Oct. 15, 2013 and participate in a Wikipedia: Ada Lovelace Day 2013 edit-a-thon

Founded in 2009 by Suw Charman-Anderson, Ada Lovelace Day (Oct. 15) is on its way to realizing its goal of bringing more recognition to and celebrating women in science. From Charman-Anderson’s Oct. 15, 2013 posting for the Guardian Science blogs (Note: Links have been removed),

When I started the day five years ago, my goal was to collect these stories not only to inspire girls to study the STEM subjects, but also to provide support to women pursuing careers in these usually male-dominated fields.

Ada Lovelace is the ideal figurehead for this project: She was the world’s first computer programmer, and the first person to realise that a general purpose computing machine such as Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine could do more than just calculate large tables of numbers. It could, she said, create music and art, given the right inputs. The Analytical Engine, she wrote, “weaves algebraic patterns just as the Jacquard loom weaves flowers and leaves”.

This daughter of “mad, bad and dangerous to know” Lord Byron achieved this distinction despite the fierce prejudices of the 19th Century. Her tutor Augustus De Morgan echoed the accepted view of the time when he said that maths problems presented “a very great tension of mind beyond the strength of a woman’s physical power”.

But Ada persevered in her studies, and De Morgan recognised her brilliance when he said that had she been a man, she would have had the potential to become “an original mathematical investigator, perhaps of first-rate eminence”.

Sydney Brownstone has written an Oct. 15, 2013 article about an Ada Lovelace Day Wikipedia event (on the Fast Company website; Note: Links have been removed),

Take Wikipedia, for example. Despite the fact that our communal encyclopedia provides a wealth of accessible information, women make up fewer than 15% of the project’s editors. (For further information, see the Wikipedia article “Wikipedia: Systemic bias.”) Oftentimes, the lack of gender parity results in a dearth of articles about, or including, important female figures in society. That’s what science journalist and BrainPOP news director Maia Weinstock found when she started editing Wikipedia articles back in 2007: Women who should be included in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) achievement canon were simply missing from the archives. Or, when they were included, their stories were often stubs that left out the magnitude of their contributions.

In attempt to rectify some of these wrongs, Weinstock organized a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon held on last year’s Ada Lovelace day, a holiday dedicated to celebrating achievements of women in STEM fields, named for the pioneering 19th-century scientist (who, thankfully, has an extensive Wikipedia entry). Today [Oct. 15, 2013], Weinstock is organizing another round of editing at Brown University, in which some 40 contributors will help write articles from scratch or expand stubs on women pioneers. [emphasis mine]

In addition to the meetup at Brown University (Rhode Island, US), remote participation is also being encouraged in the Edit-a-thon from 3 pm to 8:30 pm EDT today (Oct. 15, 2013). You can find out more about the event (in person or remote) on this page: Wikipedia:Meetup/Ada Lovelace Edit-a-thon 2013 – Brown.

Brava to all women involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) everywhere!

Alberta’s (Canada) science education gets shout-out from UK’s (United Kingdom) Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education, Elizabeth Truss

On July 11, 2013 Elizabeth Truss, UK Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education (H/T Nassif Ghoussoub’s Piece of Mind), spoke at an International Student Science Fair and cited Alberta’s science education and high performance, along with Singapore’s, in her speech,

So at primary, we want children to get a really solid foundation in the basics of scientific knowledge and language, backed up by more and higher quality practical work and experiments – building on the approaches to science education in high-performing jurisdictions like Singapore and Alberta.

Obviously, Truss is making a case for science and technology education as preparation for the future in a speech that amongst other things emphasizes “non-artificial intelligence,”

As the future comes hurtling towards us, the most important resource any country can boast is not physical, nor technological – but human.

Every leap forward, every flash of insight, relies not on infrastructure, capital or regulatory regimes – important as they are.

But on people. On their brains, their knowledge and their determination to succeed.

On the schoolchildren and students of today – the innovators of tomorrow.

We don’t know yet precisely what skills will be needed in the future.

But as technology transforms the working world – and jobs polarise between the low-skilled and the very high-skilled, highly-educated – we know that the value of high-level skills is growing.

The 21st century will need people who are equally comfortable manipulating numbers, words and lines of computer code; who have the skills and the knowledge to understand both foreign languages and mathematical equations. Rounded individuals who can analyse and think logically, who have mastered both arts and sciences.

Never mind Bitcoin, education is the currency of the future.

International evidence has proved that countries with successful education systems grow more quickly.

Given Truss is speaking at an International Student(s) Science Fair (this is the only site [ ISSF 2012] that seemed to fit the description), it does seem like she’s speaking to the ‘converted’. Students at an international science fair have shown a fair degree of interest and commitment and this speech while inspiring doesn’t address one of the major problems described in a rather interesting UK research project on children’s science attitudes. From my Jan. 31, 2012 posting,

One of the research efforts in the UK is the ASPIRES research project at King’s College London (KCL), which is examining children’s attitudes to science and future careers. Their latest report, Ten Science Facts and Fictions: the case for early education about STEM careers (PDF), is profiled in a Jan. 11, 2012 news item on physorg.com (from the news item),

Professor Archer [Louise Archer, Professor of Sociology of Education at King’s] said: “Children and their parents hold quite complex views of science and scientists and at age 10 or 11 these views are largely positive. The vast majority of children at this age enjoy science at school, have parents who are supportive of them studying science and even undertake science-related activities in their spare time. They associate scientists with important work, such as finding medical cures, and with work that is well paid.

“Nevertheless, less than 17 per cent aspire to a career in science. These positive impressions seem to lead to the perception that science offers only a very limited range of careers, for example doctor, scientist or science teacher. It appears that this positive stereotype is also problematic in that it can lead people to view science as out of reach for many, only for exceptional or clever people, and ‘not for me’.

Professor Archer says the findings indicate that engaging young people in science is not therefore simply a case of making it more interesting or more fun. She said: “There is a disconnect between interest and aspirations. Our research shows that young people’s ambitions are strongly influenced by their social backgrounds – ethnicity, social class and gender – and by family contexts. [emphases mine]

In that 2012 posting, I also featured a US project where researchers developed an intervention for stimulating more adolescent interest in science and technology studies by focusing on the adolescent students’ parents.

Both the UK’s ASPIRES project and the US project suggest getting children to pursue education and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) fields has more to do with family and social culture than is often recognized.

Adding a somewhat ironic wrinkle to this discussion is a finding from a study by the Brookings Metropolitan Policy program that 20% of all jobs in the US—not 4%-5% of jobs as claimed by the US National Science Foundation—could be described as STEM jobs. From the June 10, 2013 article for Fast Company by Ariel Schwartz,

…, STEM jobs aren’t limited to workers with advanced degrees–50% don’t even require a bachelor’s degree. Many of the more blue-collar STEM jobs are in fields like construction, plant and system operation, and repair (telecommunications equipment, aircraft, computer, office machine, etc.).

The irony is that family members who think that science careers are for other ‘smart and exceptional’ people may themselves have a STEM-based job/career. You can find the Brookings Institute report here. It should be noted this report The Hidden STEM Economy) has a unique definition of STEM, from the Schwartz article,

The Institute explains in a press release: “Previous studies classified workers as STEM only if they worked in a small number of professional occupations, but the Brookings definition classifies occupations according to the level of knowledge in STEM fields that workers need to perform their jobs. As a result, many nonprofessional jobs in manufacturing, health care, construction, and mining industries could be considered STEM jobs.”

Take for example, car mechanics. Today’s mechanics need to know about computers and fairly complex electronics, such as lithium-ion batteries, in addition to standard mechanics. (BTW, In the late 1980s, I had a coop student job at a school board where even then they trying to integrate electronics and information technology into their trades education programmes.)

If you have the time, I do recommend reading Truss’s speech (by following either the link to Nassif’s website or the direct link to the speech) and/or Schwartz’s article.

Hurry! STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) story competition for Public Radio Exchange

The deadline is Monday, Apr. 22, 2013 at 11:59 pm EDT (or 8:59 pm PDT). Now that’s out of the way, here are some of the competition details:

PRX [Public Radio Exchange] is looking for proposals to create short-form audio works about compelling stories, controversies, explanations, people, events, and insights about Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM).  We have a total pool of $40,000 made possible by a grant from the Sloan Foundation.

Here’s what they are looking for:

  • Highly creative, original works (we love Radiolab, SciFri, 99% Invisible, etc., but we want to hear YOUR style… don’t try to sound like them!).
  • Story-driven but not necessarily narrative pieces. We want solid science reporting, but not presented in a standard newsy style. If you can make something that keeps a listener enthralled, that’s what we want.
  • Proposals that address under-covered topics.  We are looking at all STEM topics, but we’re especially interested in creative approaches to engineering and math, which don’t get enough radio attention.
  • We will consider works that are already commissioned by another local or national program, but prefer original works. A commissioned work must be at pre-production stage, and must include PRX and Sloan Foundation credits in the body of the program, for all broadcast and digital versions.  The final broadcast version of the piece or segment must be posted to PRX and open to all licensing and opt-in usage by stations and other purchasers.
  • We prefer to work with one point of contact: a single producer OR a single lead producer of a small team. That producer must have final and complete say over story production, edits and the final product and is responsible for delivery of the agreed segment on time and on budget. The audio sample(s) submitted for this application must be by the lead or sole producer.
  • The preferred production length is between 4 and 7 minutes. We will accept limited series as long as the segments are able to stand alone.

While the entries must be English language, anyone from anywhere in the world can submit a proposal. Producers also need need to have or set up an account with PRX. More specifically,

  • PRX will be the exclusive broadcast distributor of the content for two years (or 24 months) after the work is posted to PRX and will retain a nonexclusive perpetual license for digital distribution.  The producer owns the work and can post it on his/her own website, SoundCloud, and other open streaming sites with the proper crediting.  Exclusive means that PRX will be involved in all discussions with broadcast outlets and have final say on all broadcast placement of the piece.
  • All final productions must be in English for U.S. audiences and conform to U.S. professional broadcast standards (technical, legal, and appropriate language).
  • Producers do not need to be a PRX account holders to apply.  However, producers of the selected and funded productions must set up PRX accounts.
  • If selected and funded, producers must upload their completed work to PRX.org to be made available to broadcast stations no later than July 15, 2013.
  • The selected and funded productions must comply with the PRX Terms of Use.
  • There is no implication or agreement to hire, contract, or otherwise engage with the producers outside this competitive process.
  • Producers must include required funding credits (to be provided by PRX) within the body of longer works or as adjacent credits with shorter material.  Credits must also be included on any digital platform.
  • All support funds will be paid in U.S. dollars.
  • The producer is responsible for all rights clearances for any content included in the work.
  • Producers can submit more than one proposal.  Please submit a separate application for each proposed project.
  • Producers outside the U.S. are welcome to apply.  International story proposals are also welcome.

Here’s a partial list of what you need for your submission:

  • A title for your proposed project.
  • A short bio.  If you also have past experience with STEM topics, let us know!  It is NOT required, however.
  • Two links to examples of your previous work with audio (or mp3 files if you do not have links).  You do not need to create files that are specific to your proposal.
  • Contact info for three references (not reference letters).
  • Production budget and breakdown.
  • Summary of the editorial and fact-checking plans; in particular for the STEM information at the core of the work.
  • A Word doc, PDF, or txt file of your project description in 250 words or less.
  • Your Twitter handle and a Twitter-length summary of your proposal (140 characters or less). PRX may choose to share these summaries publicly during the application process (you may opt out).
  • ….

Go here to apply.

For anyone who’s curious about PRX, here’s some information from their home page,

Public Radio Exchange is an online marketplace for distribution, review, and licensing of public radio programming. PRX is also a growing social network and community of listeners, producers, and stations collaborating to reshape public radio.

Good luck!

Engineering toys for girls

Ariel Schwartz in her Dec. 6, 2012 article for Fast Company’s Co-Design website describes three engineering toys, two of which are explicitly designed for girls while the other one is of interest to any child who might want to build a robot. From the article (Note: I have removed links),

Devised by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-educated engineer, GoldieBlox is a brand new series of construction toys and books for girls that focuses on a young blond girl named Goldie who lives in what Sterling described to us as a “crazy engineering house,” chock full of moving parts and gears.

A triad of women who studied mechanical engineering, neuroscience, and electrical engineering created Roominate, a modular hacker dollhouse that comes with connectable circuits. Alice Brooks, one of the designers, told Co.Design: “We started with a toy that girls already love, and added educational components that make the toy even more engaging.”

Slightly older girls (11 and up) might enjoy the $199 Hummingbird robotics kit, created by BirdBrain Technologies (a spin-off from Carnegie Mellon University). The kit comes with four sub-kits: a light and vibration set with 10 multi-colored LEDs and two vibration motors; a control set that comes with an auxiliary motor power supply, a USB cable, and a screwdriver; a motion that includes DC motors and servos; and a sensing kit that contains sound, temperature, distance, light sensors along with a rotary knob; basically, anything you would need to build the robot of your dreams. [emphases mine]

You won’t be able to get GoldieBlox in time for Christmas as it doesn’t ship until April 2013. By the way, GoldieBlox was a successful Kickstarter project raising over $285,000 when the goal was $150,000. Here’s an image from their campaign,

GoldieBlox (image from http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/16029337/goldieblox-the-engineering-toy-for-girls)

You can find GoldieBlox here and you will find that a little more culture diversity is being introduced.

Roominate looks like great fun and you can get that kit in time for Christmas, assuming they don’t run out of stock,

“A cooling fan that I wired myself!”

And then there’s this,

“A spinning dog for my pet shop!”

There’s one more picture from the home page and I must say I heartily agree with the sentiments,

“Every airport needs a cupcake shop and an aquarium!”

Personally, I’m particularly interested in the robotics kit from BirdBrain Technologies. Schwartz notes in her article that a group of eighth graders used the kit to build a scene from Carl Sandberg’s poem Sand. Here’s a video from inventor (it’s geeky),

Encouraging STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers while opportunities decline in Canada

The problem never seems to get solved. One end of the organization or institution makes a decision without considering the impact on those affected. Take for example the current drive to encourage more students to undertake STEM (science, technology, engineering, and/or mathematics) careers when there are few job opportunities (except for engineers).

The University of British Columbia has just announced a science outreach toolkit, from the Aug. 30, 2012 news release on EurekAlert,

Outreach programs that offer a taste of real-world science and pair secondary students with enthusiastic young researchers are key to promoting careers in science and technology, according to University of British Columbia researchers.

In a paper published this week in PLoS Computational Biology, UBC researchers document their work on the Genomics Field Trip Program hosted at the Michael Smith Laboratories (MSL). Joanne Fox, Jennifer McQueen and Jody Wright outline the benefits of research-based field trips, offering a blueprint for designing science outreach programs.

The Genomics Field Trip program encourages exploration of the sciences through a full day genomics experience which takes place at the MSL laboratories. Program instructors are typically UBC graduate students who benefit from the experience by developing their ability to communicate scientific ideas to the general public. They also develop skills in lesson design and delivery, allowing them to enhance their instructional skills, something that does not always occur in teaching assistantship positions.

Fox hopes the success of the Genomics Field Trip Program will inspire other institutions to develop similar programs. The recommendations included in her paper can be used as a blueprint for science programs and an online genomics toolkit provides valuable information for lesson plans.

“This type of program helps graduate students remember why science is so exciting, and in turn inspires the next generation of scientists,” Fox explains.

The toolkit available here is designed for grade nine classes and it looks to be quite engaging. However, it is a disconcerting effort in light of the current situation for many STEM graduates. Nassif Ghoussoub (a mathematician at the University of British Columbia) in an Aug. 20, 2012 posting on his Piece of Mind blog writes about the diminishing opportunities for postgraduate science work (Note: I have removed links),

Canada’s “Natural Science and Engineering Research Council” has grown uncomfortable with the rapidly dwindling success rate in its postdoctoral fellowship programme, the latest having clocked in at 7.8%. So, it has decided to artificially inflate these rates by limiting the number of times young Canadian scholars can apply for such awards to … once. Never mind that the pathetic $40,000 salary (see comments below for corrections) for a highly trained Canadian post-doc hasn’t changed in more than 25 years, young Canadian scientists will now be fighting tooth and nail for the privilege of living on the fringe of the poverty line while trying to jumpstart their research careers. Welcome to Canada’s new lottery system for deciding the future of the nation’s capacity for advanced study and research.

I guess something needed to be done to cover up the fact that NSERC is now awarding 66% fewer fellowships than it did 5 years ago. Last year, we wondered whether the following numbers reflected a policy shift at NSERC or just collateral damage.

  • (2008) 250 awards/ 1169 applicants
  • (2009) 254 awards/ 1220 applicants
  • (2010) 286 awards/ 1341 applicants
  • (2011) 133 awards/ 1431 applicants
  • (2012) 98 awards/ 1254 applicants

These 98 fellowships are to be shared by 20 scientific disciplines and to be split among the 59 PhD-granting Canadian universities.

This theme is also addressed in an Aug. 24, 2012 posting by Jonathan Thon on the Black Hole blog which is now being hosted by the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC), Note: I have removed a link,

It should come as no surprise that by increasing the supply of graduate students (and in turn post-doctoral fellows), we have arranged to produce more knowledge workers than we can employ, creating a labor-excess economy that keeps labor costs down and productivity high (How much is a scientist worth?) – but is this what we want? While advantageous in the short-term, there is little room for additional gains and a more efficient and productive system will need to be created if we wish to actualize research-based economic growth.

As for opportunities in the industrial sector, Canada has a longstanding reputation for exceptionally low rates of industrial R&D (research and development).

I’ve yet to see the programme for the 2012 Canadian Science Policy Conference taking place in Calagary (Alberta) from Nov. 5 – 7, 2012 but I’m hoping this will be on the agenda.