Sunday, March 22, 2009

What do we want our universities to be?

PZ Myers on universities staying afloat by jettisoning whole departments:
My own discipline of biology is dead without mathematics, chemistry, and physics, and yes, geology is part of the environment we want our students to know. Now it's true that if all we aimed to do was churn out pre-meds, we could dispense with geology; heck, we could toss out all those ecologists, too, and hone ourselves down to nothing but a service department for instruction in physiology and anatomy.

But we wouldn't be a university anymore. We'd be a trade school.

Go read the whole thing.

In my admittedly limited experience, many biology departments are morphing into trade schools already, for pre-meds and moleculoids. Administrations love the publicity that comes from having productive organismal biologists and paleontologists, but we're usually not writing NIH grants for zillion dollar ion reflux pronabulators, which means we're not propping up universities with megabucks of institutional overhead from those grants, which means that when it comes to startup, lab space, getting tenure lines renewed, etc., we often get the short end of the stick.

Fortunately for me, lots of med schools have learned the hard way that moving from cadaver dissection to online virtual anatomy (OMG!!1!!!111!!!!) is a good way to have your students' board scores go in the toilet, so there is at least one place where anatomy will continue to be valued (if not as much as NIH grants) for the near future at least.

But then, I work at a trade school. It's okay for Western to work that way; it's not okay for the University of Florida.

Depressed Academic is depressed.

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3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hear ya, Vo TECH FTW. But if a paleo/evomorph student has not had someone tell them to learn/teach anatomy 'cause it will get them a job, then they should ask for their money back.

Casey

11:54 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

I guess this answers my question about what you're doing there. Let's just think of them as your patron; you have certain job-related responsibilities, but we all really just want to make sure you have an income and can keep doing interesting and ultimately valuable things.

8:31 PM  
Blogger Dr. Vector said...

I guess this answers my question about what you're doing there.

Making a living, and happily! You might be surprised at the number of paleontologists who are employed teaching anatomy to med students. Like Casey said, it's just solid advice for students in our field. Rich Cifelli urges all of his students to get experience teaching anatomy, and it's served me VERY well.

For one thing, it's really nice to work somewhere that anatomy is actually valued. And barring a major rearrangement of our civilization, there is never going to be a shortage of future doctors to teach. Beyond that, med schools pay pretty well. ;-)

I can't claim any great wisdom in this area, however. Pat O'Connor was talking up the advantages of working at a med school to me for a long time before I got it.

Let's just think of them as your patron; you have certain job-related responsibilities, but we all really just want to make sure you have an income and can keep doing interesting and ultimately valuable things.

Yeah, that's pretty much how it works. The university is happy to have a visibly productive researcher, and I'm happy to have an appreciative employer. Everyone should be so lucky.

8:52 PM  

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