Monday, January 4, 2010

Cyber-Dirt

I just did a quick search for soil science blogs. Only one came up in my search. This only reminded me that in current science, soil is often forgotten about, and less than sexy. Student numbers are dwindling as catch-phrases such as 'climate change' and 'food and shortages' are thrown about. Realistically, soil science are still parts of these problems. Caring for our soil = good food, clean water and plenty of Carbon sequestration. How do we get students back in the field and playing with mud?

A few of us soilies (as we like to call ourselves) were joking in the lab about a pin-up calender for soil science. Girls in lab coats and heels, hair blowing in the wind. Men would be digging holes, bare chested, sweat dripping over their ripped torso. In reality, it is more likely that the girls will be in ripped, acid-soaked, red stained jeans with an equally revolting t-shirt, and the men will be 50 years +. Is it the image of soil science that is causing the problem? What is the image of (soil) science to youth?

We forget that (soil) science is not glamorous. Once upon a time, science was an elite field. Good money, well respected, could go into space, hot chicks etc etc. Today, science is that boring stuff about numbers and shite. Modern youth feed on excitement and 'radness'. By being keen on something, they need to know that they will have the opportunity to show their 'awesomeness' and be working on an important cause (like climate change). Is soil science rad? When we look up soil science up on the inertnet, what does it show us?

Interesting and 'sexy' soil science is difficult to find on the internet. There is plenty of information on soil science. Terms, what it is, wiki, associations, boring stuff etc. All the numbers and dots that young people don't care about. They want to know how many chicks it will score them, what the pay brackets are, how it will save the world and that they can do it all in time for an episode of Scrubs. What makes soil science interesting? Searching for 'interesting soil science' through Google only gave me similar results. This was clearly demonstrated by the lack of blogs. Further reinforced by no chat rooms. No campaigns. No hot chicks in lab coats.

Soil science is dead to modern youth and regaining its existence means making it more appealing for this generation. For modern youth if it ain't on the web, or all over the media, who the frak has heard of it anyway? And why should they waste their time thinking or talking about it with friends? Clearly it isn't cool enough if it isn't on the internet or being blasted all over TV. What youth learn on the internet will shape who they are. Young people have a strong affinity with the internet, and are more likely to Google than pick up a book. In an article by Mechthild Maczewski, it was suggested that the internet is also a means of indentifing ones self. So, if we provide information in an interesting manner, shouldn't this improve our chances at making soil science look more appealing?

In a half-humourous manner, I suggested a 'hot-new-look' and getting some 'sex-appeal' for soil science at an annual meeting. Part of this would be making soil science more readily available on the internet in different forums and formats. Myself being the youngest in the room (by at least 20 years) got glared at for 2 seconds, and the topic changed. One part of the problem is the aging population of soil scientists and their lack of understanding of both the younger generations and technology. We are now faced with techno-youth who care about how awesome something is, and scientists that do not know how to use the internetwhatsit.

Modern youth and modern technology need to be considered in adressing the lack of (soil) science students. Brainwashing them using carefully created internet sources and getting them to realise how awesome (soil) science is through media is quite possibly one of the only ways in succeeding to gain more students and interest. Eliza Dresang suggests the need to harness the internet for such a use. Blogs = one way of making soil science more appealing and sexy to modern-techno, internet-feeding frenzy generations. Let this be the start!

7 comments:

  1. That's a bit of a depressing post to start with! I think science overall has a big image problem (and an earnings potential problem). I will never forget in Year 7, my (female) science teacher asking us to all draw a scientist. Almost everyone (me included) drew an old white bloke with a beard in a labcoat. Anyway sexy research topics and fields go in and out of fashion and soil science is perhaps one of the hardest to make look exciting, there's no cute cuddly animals or plants to talk up. Perhaps you need a catchy angle of some sort to get general interest? But, for getting kids and students interested in it in order that there are more soil scientists in the future, I think one of the biggest influences is inspiring and knowledgeable teachers, even right down at the primary level. Again, another memory - in Grade 2 our teacher took us outside and we had to put a hoola hoop on the ground and look at all the creatures inside the hoop. My first taste of a (round) quadrat obviously inspired me!

    lynds
    http://worldofecology.blogspot.com/

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  2. That is an awesome teacher, L! I think it was some of my primary and high school science teachers that inspired me too. I completely agree that we need more of this - like CSIRO's Scientist in Schools program.

    Getting into soil science was an accident. I really did not want to do the subjects in 2nd year Enviro Science, but had too. If it wasn't for Dr. Field and Dr. Greene's engaging styles, they would have never captured me! They definately make soil interesting. I just have to work out harnessing that power for younger people, who need more engagement in science...

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  3. Oh! I forgot to say. I was going to use the evil of Internet for hood. Considered calling my blog 'dirty girl'. Surely that would get more Google hits than soil science? It was also rather apt. I share names with a very famous Porn Star.

    In the end I decided it was all a bad idea, scientific reputation to uphold!

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  4. Firstly you are sounding very old with all this youth talk and using sex to sell soil. Then I realised that my thoughts are sounding very old too. b/c i was thinking, surely people will do soil science because they see the relevance in it not just because its the cool thing todo. As soil really is the beginning and ending of everything. Oh well I guess we are a lot older than that average first year undergrad.

    I don't think sex is the way to sell it though. I think science got its bad name from when ever advertising started, with all the quick fix remedies for mostly health issues. Then scientists coming up with theories and then being proven wrong all so often. And all this GM stuff too. I probably shouldn't really be bringing all this up as i really dont know too much about science, but as an outsider to the science world all i see is people not having much faith in science any more as with religion, because so many parts of it are often being proven wrong.

    I think what L said at the start is the best angle. Get the kids excited about soil, show them the importance of it. Also getting the government on board can help to with having advertising initiatives. There does need to be a fresh start though. All people are thinking with environmental science these days is doom and gloom. We need to get excited again and see some hope.

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  5. I got a sexy and sciency angle for you (that does not conjure Belle de Jour)...
    Palaeontology and archaeology are really sexy with all those dinosaurs, stone tools and mega fauna props. If future scientists want to understand the conditions that help to preserve their specimens, and what the different soil layers can tell us about the past, they have to understand soils. Once you got them in the lecture theatre you can do your spill about all the other interesting aspects of soil science and you may capture their imagination in the same way that it captured yours.

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  6. Back when the earth was cooling, I posted on "Where are all the soil science bloggers" ( http://transectpoints.blogspot.com/2006/02/where-are-all-soil-science-bloggers.html ). I have moved off transectpoints.blogspot to http://www.nscss.org/blogs/psmall. Looking forward to your soils-related posts. Keep digging (and titrating. and cooking...) :)

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  7. Thanks Phil! I have added you to my blog roll!

    It is great to see other soil scientists blogging too :D

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