Category: Workplace issues in STEM

Weaving Indigenous knowledge into the scientific method

Read the full story in Nature.

Scientists and funders with close links to local communities outline how Western teams can collaborate fairly and effectively with those groups.

Sold-out supplies, serving a public need and other adventures of doing science during a pandemic – 4 researchers share their experiences

Like much else, scientific labs have been shut down by the pandemic. Cavan Images/Cavan via Getty Images

by Christian L’Orange, Colorado State University; Erin Lavik, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Nilanjan Banerjee, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Tony Schmitz, University of Tennessee

Closures, remote work, supply chain issues and changing priorities have affected almost everyone’s lives at some point during the nearly two years of the coronavirus pandemic. The process of science itself was no exception. The many people who do the lab work, experiments and human studies that further scientific knowledge all faced challenges – many of which were unexpected.

To understand how the pandemic changed the process of science, we asked four researchers about their experiences over the past two years.


Two health care workers wearing masks.
Early in the pandemic, a lot of scientific testing needed to be done to understand how masks could protect health care workers. AP Photo/Mic Smith

Balancing public needs with science and mentorship

Christian L’Orange, Assistant Research Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University

I am an engineer and aerosol scientist. People used to return a look of confusion when I said that, and prospective engineering students rarely had any idea that aerosol science was even an area of research. That all changed with COVID-19.

In March 2020, as the world was being told to stay home in the first weeks of the lockdown, the university and my lab were asked by the Colorado governor’s office to test masks being purchased for front-line workers.

In a matter of days, we pivoted all of our time to testing masks. This came at the cost of our research: Everything was put on hold. Nevertheless, we were proud to do it. I have had few experiences more gratifying than knowing I was making a difference in a time of need – however bittersweet.

A big reason I do the job I do is my love for research and the opportunity to mentor students. COVID-19 took both of those away for nearly two years. Research has begun again, and students are returning to the lab, but we won’t get that time back.

My colleagues and I were able to respond to the governor’s request for mask testing only because of the skills and experience that come from years of being in the lab – but what could those skills have led to if we hadn’t lost the past two years? What more could my students have achieved if they hadn’t lost that time?

Despite the good we have done, those questions still bother me.

However, I am optimistic that the pandemic might end up being good for aerosol research. I no longer get blank stares when I mention airborne particles, and maybe this pandemic will attract new bright students to a field about which I am so passionate.


Thousands of shipping containers stacked on a dock.
Scientific supplies – from chemicals to plastic containers – were all affected by supply chain issues. AP Photo/Noah Berger

Resource sharing to overcome supply chain issues

Erin Lavik, Professor of Chemical, Biochemical and Environmental Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

My lab – where my colleagues and I study biomaterials to control bleeding, deliver drugs and build tissues – was shut down in March 2020 because of the coronavirus. When labs on campus began to reopen that June, we worked with a skeleton crew to restart our projects.

We expected there to be challenges getting certain supplies and chemicals that were necessary for vaccine production, but I was utterly surprised by how hard it was to get everything. Plasticware that we use in experiments became impossible to find. Many chemicals were back-ordered for months, if not years.

To keep scientific projects moving forward, my lab and many others on campus have banded together and have been sharing supplies and looking after one another’s projects. Because of unexpected sudden quarantines, we cannot afford to just do our work – we need to know what others are doing and be willing and able to step in at a moment’s notice to complete a chemical reaction, take care of some cells in a petri dish or record important data.

The challenges of limited supplies and quarantines are not over and may even be getting worse. But through the collaborative systems my colleagues and I have built, we have been able to keep research moving forward, albeit at a slower pace. And like everyone, we have all gotten better at the process of collaborating remotely, too.


Teaching the public directly

Tony Schmitz, Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, University of Tennessee, Knoxville

The challenges of the pandemic are significant and continuing, but my personal experience at the intersection of COVID-19 and science has been unexpectedly positive.

I run the Machine Tool Research Center and study ways to improve and speed up the process of manufacturing parts. Machining is important because it remains a critical process for manufactured products, but the U.S. workforce is in sharp decline. When the University of Tennessee transitioned from in-person to online instruction, this new time away from the office gave me the opportunity to produce video and written content that explains the science and modern skills of machining to a lay audience.

The online training I developed is like a flight simulator for machining. No prior experience is necessary, and it provides step-by-step instructions for computer-aided manufacturing skills. It explains the geometry and physics of machining and simulates the real-world vibrations and sounds of making parts.

I was not alone in having time on my hands though. Disruptions to education and the supply chain provided time for both students and manufacturing professionals to explore the online training I made. In one sense, the two factors created the perfect storm for nontraditional learning in machining, and the response has been fantastic. Since its launch in December 2021, 1,756 people have registered for the class, and 676 people completed it. These participants comprised 36% industry workers and 64% students and represented 47 states.

It has been fantastic to have an opportunity to teach machining in a unique way to a broader audience, and I will continue to do so. The Department of Defense is funding the effort, and in the future I plan to grow the network and add in-person training locations that complement the online instruction. Despite the many hardships the shutdowns caused, this would not have been possible in a normal year.


A woman wearing virtual reality goggles.
Virtual reality can mimic many in-person experiences. Westend61 via Getty Images

Using tech when you can’t meet in person

Nilanjan Banerjee, Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County

At the Mobile Pervasive and Sensor Systems Lab, my colleagues and I seek to understand how people’s physical states – like stress, for example – affect the performance of a group. To study this, we need to collect physiological data like heart rate and heart rate variability from subjects while they play group games in person.

Unfortunately, having people meet in person to play games has been impossible for much of the past two years, thanks to the coronavirus. For many situations, remote conference tools can get the job done even if they are a bit more tiring than meeting in person. But a Zoom call simply can’t emulate the immersive environment required for group games and the physical responses that I study.

If my colleagues and I wanted to continue our research, we needed an immersive but safe way for our study participants to interact. So, we developed virtual reality games. Over the months that we relied on virtual reality, my colleagues and I realized that not only did these games work, in fact, they turned out to be better than in-person games because the virtual environment is completely free of distractions.

Developing virtual reality games and making them as realistic as possible is not cheap. But compared with a normal in-person study, this is a simple, inexpensive and effective platform to study how people in groups perform under different conditions. Since it allows our team to study these things without the need for subjects to be in the same room all at once, we plan to continue using this platform for future large-scale studies even post-pandemic.

Christian L’Orange, Assistant Research Professor of Mechanical Engineering, Colorado State University; Erin Lavik, Professor of Chemical, Biochemical, and Environmental Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Nilanjan Banerjee, Associate Professor of Computer Science and Electrical Engineering, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and Tony Schmitz, Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace and Biomedical Engineering, University of Tennessee

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

‘A moral issue to correct’: the long tail of Elena Ceaușescu’s fraudulent scientific work

Read the full story in The Guardian.

Nicolae Ceaușescu’s Romanian communist regime hailed his wife as an eminent chemistry researcher, though she had no genuine qualifications. But her name lives on in academic journals, and British institutions have yet to retract honours bestowed on her,

Welcome to the jungle: The Smithsonian’s #MeToo moment

Read the full story from BuzzFeed News.

Many researchers dream of one day working at the Smithsonian’s facility in Panama. But 16 women scientists told BuzzFeed News that their experiences there were nightmares ruled by prominent men who exploited their powers.

Virtual conferences are better for the environment and more inclusive

Read the full story from the University of Texas at Austin.

A research team led by engineers found that virtual conferences are more inclusive than in-person events, and also carry a smaller environmental footprint.

Stagnating salaries present hurdles to career satisfaction

Read the full story in Nature.

Fewer than half of respondents to Nature’s 2021 salary and satisfaction survey feel positive about their prospects.

Five ways librarians teach science literacy

Read the full post at Elsevier Connect.

It wasn’t until Kristina Hopkins was in her second year of graduate school at Columbia University in the US that she discovered the databases and tools available to support researchers in their work.

The COVID pandemic has harmed researcher productivity – and mental health

Read the full story in Nature.

Surveys show that women, parents of young children and people of colour are most affected by pandemic-related disruptions and need more support.

A professor was accused of sexual harassment and resigned. At his next university, it happened again

Read the full story from Vice.

Faculty members accused of misconduct are often allowed to leave with their reputations intact and resume the same behavior at other institutions—at the expense of students.

The English language dominates global conservation science – which leaves 1 in 3 research papers virtually ignored

Shutterstock

by Tatsuya Amano (The University of Queensland)

English is considered the language of international science. But our new research reveals how important scientific knowledge in other languages is going untapped. This oversight squanders opportunities to help improve the plight of the one million species facing extinction.

We reviewed almost 420,000 peer-reviewed papers on biodiversity conservation, published in 16 languages other than English. Many non-English-language papers provided evidence on the effectiveness of conservation measures, but they are often not disseminated to the wider scientific community.

History shows many valuable scientific breakthroughs were originally published in a language other than English. The structure of a Nobel Prize–winning antimalarial drug was first published in 1977 in simplified Chinese, as were many of the earliest papers on COVID-19.

Evidence-based conservation is crucial for tackling the Earth’s biodiversity crisis. Our research shows more effort is needed to transcend language barriers in science, maximising scientific contributions to conservation and helping save life on this planet.

woman with clipboard inspects plants
Research findings in non-English papers can provide valuable insights. Shutterstock

Conservation game-changer

Most scientists speak English as a first or second language. And many academic reward programs are skewed towards getting published in international English-language journals.

But important evidence in biodiversity conservation is routinely generated by field conservationists and scientists who are less fluent in English. They often prefer publishing work in their first language – which for many, is not English.

More than one-third of scientific documents on biodiversity conservation are published in languages other than English. However, such knowledge is rarely used at the international level.

Take, for example, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). Analysis of the IPBES biodiversity assessment reports has found 96% of references cited are written in English.

Clearly, tackling any global challenge, including the biodiversity crisis, hinges on tapping into the best available knowledge, whichever language it’s produced in. Our translatE project aims to overcome the language barriers to improve this information flow.

As part of the project, we screened 419,679 peer-reviewed papers published in 16 non-English languages between 1888 and 2020 across a wide range of fields. These spanned biodiversity, ecology, conservation biology, forestry and agricultural science, to name a few.

We found 1,234 papers across the 16 non-English languages that provided evidence on the effectiveness of biodiversity conservation interventions. To put this in perspective, the Conservation Evidence database, which documents global research into the effectiveness of conservation actions, holds 4,412 English-language papers.

The rate of publication of relevant studies is increasing over years in six non-English languages: French, German, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and simplified Chinese.

Among the non-English-language studies we found were a Spanish study on alleviating conflicts between livestock farmers and endangered Andean mountain cats in northern Patagonia, and a Japanese study on the relocation of endangered Blakiston’s fish owls.

Such findings might have valuable insights for human-nature conflicts and threatened bird management in other parts of the world.

owl in icy water
A Japanese study on Blakiston’s fish owls was among the relevant non-English papers the authors identified. Shutterstock

Most English-language evidence on what works in conservation relates to Europe and North America. In some highly biodiverse regions where conservation is needed most, such as Latin America, evidence is desperately lacking.

Research in languages other than English is especially common in regions where English-language studies are scarce, such as Latin America, Russia and East Asia (see figure below).

Many non-English studies also involve species for which studies in English are few or non-existent. Incorporating non-English studies would expand scientific knowledge into 12-25% more geographic areas and 5-32% more species.

The location of 1,203 non-English-language studies testing the effectiveness of conservation interventions, compared to English-language studies. Amano et al. (2021) Tapping into non-English-language science for the conservation of global biodiversity. PLOS Biology.

Tapping global knowledge

Making the best use of non-English-language science can be a quick, cost-effective way to fill gaps in English-language science.

Our research recommends more effort to synthesise non-English-language studies, and making this knowledge available in English so it can be disseminated to a global audience.

And research projects should seek to involve native speakers of different languages. For our research, we worked with 62 collaborators who, collectively, are native speakers of 17 languages.

To have the best chance of halting Earth’s extinction crisis, we must harness the skills, experience and knowledge of people from around the world.

We also urge wider disciplines to reassess the untapped potential of non-English science to address other global challenges.

Tatsuya Amano, Australian Research Council Future Fellow, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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