Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Scientist, in Training?

I have spent the last few weeks teaching four undergraduate students, all of whom I adore in very different ways. I have been lucky and privileged to guide these students through scientific thought and principles, and explore ideas with them.

The four students are all very different and interesting. One is a similar age to me, and carries as much cynicism. Another two are bright sparks. One bounces off the walls with energy and eagerness to learn and dive into new ideas. The other is just as light, but is more contemplative and thoughtful. The last student is eager and keen to show talent. They all have good ideas and I look forward to seeing more with age. Just as they differ in personality, they differ academically. All four are exceptional students in different ways, and all learn differently and all need different types and levels of teaching.

It doesn't seem that long ago that I was in their shoes. And really, I still am. Although each of the students require different learning, there are always lessons to be learned about the life of being a scientist. I learnt these lessons when I was their age, and they are two things that I feel guide me as a Scientist.

Always remember that you will be learning every day for the rest of your life.

The best example I have of this is from an Academic morning tea at my school a few years ago. I was talking to a young academic about the perils of being, well, a young academic. This particular academic, 10 years my senior, was somewhat insulted that I still placed them in that class of academia. This is when an older academic, closer to 30 years my senior, butted in. He said 'Ah! You are a young academic until you die! Me, I am close to death and still I am young.' He was referring to the fact that you are always learning, and always growing; adding new knowledge and reanalysing. Even retraining your own thought processes. And with each new student you have new challenges and new learning opportunities. And that is the beauty of science; you are always learning and challenging yourself.

I talk about some of the important parts of learning and acceptance of continual learning in my previous post about what it is to be a Scientist.

The more you learn, the more you realise you don't know.

To me this idea is based around one piece of information, no matter how small. When you learn something new, it adds to your understanding of the world and how things work. However, on contemplation of that new piece of information, you begin to feel fear. You realise how little you know and that the world is far bigger and more complicated that you previously thought. If I think the world is big now, I hate to see how big it will feel in 20 years time!

I often share lunchtimes with one of my academic Mentors. We often have long conversations about this and that; sustainable fishing, bushfire management, perils of policy in action. The best thing is that we learn new things from each other and this is where we have two choices. I could learn, never talk about it again and walk away. Or we could think about it and talk about it again. The second option is the fun one. What we have done is to have consciously and subconsciously contemplated that new piece of information, and realized what we don't know; regardless of our ages.  This of course prompted both my Mentor and myself to ask more questions, think of more ideas, go away and learn, have more ideas... and so forth, resulting in the prompting of more scientific ideas and debate.

So, I suppose that is why I am the same as my students. I am still learning and the more I learn the more I realize I don't know. I continue to question, ponder,  research and contemplate. And that in so many ways is what makes a scientist, the ability to learn and grow knowledge. To put pieces of a puzzle together and come up with an idea, that leads to another and another and another... We are all really Scientists in Training.

And maybe that all seems very simple and obvious. But it is certainly something that I remind myself about, I teach and that I train myself to do everyday...

For my Four Students, you know who you are. And to those Academics whom have shared some of their learning with me.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Want some interesting soil reads?

You can now get the 19th World Congress of Soil Science Proceedings on the web!


My personal faves are:

* Eric Craswell on Peak Phosphorous (his talk was updated to reflect new 2010 research)
* Mark Tibbett on carbon in mine rehabilitation and CSI Soils.  Mark recently featured in New Scientist.
* Cryosols - frozen soils are rad!
* Pauline Mele and her team on the Soil Metagenomic project in Victoria, Australia
* Do ants move soil up and down and around the nest? By Don Johnson in the USA.

Or you can simply browse the themes or look up some of the authors.

Sorry for the hiatus on posts. Been in the lab for some mega phosphorous and nitrogen experiments. Will be back online soon :)