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The challenging environment for science in the 21st century

Successful universities the world over are deeply connected with the social, economic and political environment in which they serve. However, universities should also operate independently as they are not factories or political tools, and they do not need charismatic leaders the way armies and churches might. Universities are collectives, and open, critical discourse based on democratic principles is essential for their success. As part of their time-honoured compact with society, universities should not blandly surrender to outside pressures, but actively and critically engage with them. Social and political context There are an increasing number of national imperatives that universities need to consider in deciding how to position themselves. For instance, since the dawn of South Africa’s democracy, there has been a push to broaden access to higher education in order to accommodate more students with different prior experiences, different goals and ambitions, and different levels of preparedness. Importantly, transformation of our universities has included calls to diversify the professoriate and to change the culture of universities. The weak South African economy suggests that the country’s universities should prepare their students more directly for the job market. There are cries for a stronger focus on practical skills development, almost akin to vocational training. There is an expectation that academics and researchers should make more direct contributions to marketable innovations, and be more inventive with developing practical applications and solutions to everyday problems. Funding agencies call for research programmes with more direct relevance to South Africa. There are, thus, enormous pressures for curriculum reform, and invariably arguments for decolonisation, with all its political ramifications. Coupled to the above, a burgeoning agenda for African development is being set by the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and looking further afield, the global socio-economic and political environment for change is being defined fairly comprehensively by the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. These are further considerations that universities are being asked to take on board to frame their research and teaching programmes if they are going to be relevant in the future. Politicisation of research The challenges for science in the 21st century do not end there. A real problem today is that truth is increasingly being undervalued, and scientific research is becoming politicised, for example, in the context of climate change. This is a scourge that is spreading world-wide. The efforts required to advance knowledge for societal benefit are not always understood and appreciated by society, including by decision-makers. The need for an independent, critical academy is not always appreciated and, on the contrary, is often seen to be a threat by many autocratic regimes. It is becoming difficult to discriminate between real and bogus information ‘out there’ because much of the information on the internet has not been sufficiently tested for veracity and truth. Lies can be propagated at a phenomenal rate. For universities, which should pride themselves on uncovering the truth, this is debilitating. In this environment, it is also becoming more difficult to counter plagiarism and protect intellectual property – matters that are of profound importance for our universities. Most, but not all, citizens of the world have free and easy access to information, which begs the question: “Are our universities becoming less relevant?” They will be if educational and research systems are not adjusted. We certainly need more discussion on how universities should change, and this will remain a hotly contested area in planning for the future of universities for many years to come. Global challenges There is a growing number of substantive challenges in academia. Across a majority of disciplines, we are moving into the era of extremely large data sets, calling for smarter and more secure means of storing and transporting data, as well as accessing and mining data intelligently for research and decision-making. This means that an increasing number of researchers across many different disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences, need to become more computationally competent. In addition, these researchers need to be preparing to work in larger, multidisciplinary teams to resolve quantitative problems more effectively. While this need is set to grow, this transition is arguably not happening fast enough. The world-wide science system has become enormous, and it is proving to be extremely difficult to keep up with research outputs in one’s own narrow research area of interest, let alone more broadly. The flood of information is overwhelming and we need smarter ways to keep up, or else we run the risk of duplicating efforts and falling behind. On the topic of peer-reviewed publications, it has finally dawned on academics and universities that they should not be paying exorbitant costs to access publicly-funded research and in so doing enrich large corporations. The entire world of publications in this age of the internet is in a process of radical change. Academics need to seriously contemplate the pros and cons of open access, and actively participate in the global discussions currently taking place, for example, around the proposed European Plan S. Developing science responsibly There are enormous disparities in science around the world, which demand that we think more deeply about how we develop science more extensively on a global scale for the good of all of humanity. The big science questions need big – meaning expensive – research infrastructures. This calls for large, multidisciplinary teams and multinational collaborations. We must ask how we can participate more effectively, especially from the southern tip of Africa. The rest of Africa is falling behind because there has been relatively little commitment from many African countries to invest in scientific research infrastructure and in people development. This will continue to hold Africa back. South Africa is globally connected though the internet, which means that the country is also susceptible to international terror through breaches in cybersecurity. The ways in which some international agencies and governments are protecting themselves against cyber-attacks are top secret for obvious reasons, which means that many countries in the developing world are left in the dark and will need to figure out their own solutions. African countries and their universities need to invest in their own programmes to interrogate cybersecurity for their own well-being and national security. Open-ended, unfettered science in its purest form has, over the centuries, been pursued in the interests of understanding nature in a fundamental way, and long may that continue. Scientific ideas and discoveries have often been very successfully exploited for commercial gain and societal improvements, and much of the science system today the world over is designed to push scientists in the direction of more relevance. The applications of science coupled with critical thought have been essential in solving many problems facing society. Usually, that impact has been positive, but not always. There has been collateral damage and unintended consequences along the way; for example, plastics in our oceans, and other harmful environmental effects. The military has been a strong supporter of science in many countries, including during apartheid South Africa. Science has been driven in particular ways to gain superior might. Many authoritarian states, such as North Korea, have invested significantly in a very narrow set of scientific endeavours and technologies with a singular purpose in mind. Through the millennia, there has always been the potential for scientific outputs to be misused, from the time the simple domestic knife was invented. Science in the wrong hands can be catastrophic – and a climate for the misuse of science is growing. Limited global resources Some of the more difficult questions that academics need to think about relate to the consequences of the rapidly increasing global population and the stress this places on our resources and environment. This is already resulting in a power struggle for limited resources. The future of the human race depends on scientists finding more intelligent answers to difficult questions, and here researchers have a central role to play. With the rapidly increasing world population one can conclude that, purely from a statistical viewpoint, each life is becoming less significant. It should boggle the mind, then, to think about what this could imply in terms of the potential for increased unethical behaviour towards our fellow human beings, for example, in terms of mass exterminations, human experimentation and cruelty. We should think deeply about this and how academics can try to counter these tendencies in their work – by identifying the problem early on, and proposing solutions before the problem gets beyond our control. History will show that so much has been accomplished by so few with so little over the past 100 years. This period has been unprecedented in the history of the human race. It is difficult to believe that the electron was discovered just over 100 years ago, and through science and the applications of science, technology, industrialisation and commercialisation, and sheer ingenuity, humans have been able to harness the fullest potential of the electron to fundamentally change the way in which we live our lives, not only in a technical sense, but also in a social sense. This tiny particle has come to define our age, namely the electronic age. This stunning growth over a short period does raise unrealistic expectations that new scientific ideas and technologies needed to solve challenges in the 21st century will emerge just as easily, just as rapidly and just as cheaply, with the snap of a finger, so to speak. But that is not correct. Support for science Our universities are working under extremely tight fiscal constraints. Academics are being asked to do much more with much less at a time when our universities are under enormous pressures to be ‘world class’. Science needs much more support for the public good. In striving to be nationally responsive and world class, South African science must be connected with the global environment that frames science. We should be consolidating and setting the foundations to be world class. We need to be excellent in all aspects of the academic enterprise including our management, operations, teaching and learning, research and external engagements. Universities in South Africa have been in a state of stress for a while, and one wonders whether an era of stability is possible in which to focus on core functions. A successful and prosperous South Africa depends on a modern, scientifically literate and technically competent workforce, and here, universities have a central role to play. They are a precious resource. Stakeholders need to engage more intelligently and constructively with each other within and without the university, or the idea of the university will be under threat. We are but temporary custodians of the institutions we inherit. The hope and expectation are that we will build on the foundations that have been laid by others over the years, and to leave it in a better state than we found it.

Teaching Earth Sciences in the 21st Century

Over the past few years, Cornell’s Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) has been making a concerted effort to modernize the undergraduate curriculum – aiming to prepare students to address some of the most pressing issues of our time. In an effort to specialize the new major in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the department has developed four concentration areas. Students can now complete a concentration in Environmental Science, Geological Science, Ocean Science, and the newest concentration, Climate Science. The department continues to offer a separate major in Atmospheric Sciences with its focus on meteorological principles, available to CALS students. The different intricacies of the department are often confusing and can best be explained by the graphic below. The Geological Science concentration remained from the previous program, but the curriculum changed to focus on understanding processes and asking questions about how the planet works internally and how that impacts its surface process.   The department introduced Earth Materials, a new 3000-level course, as part of the curriculum reform. From a process perspective, the new course covers some of the materials that had previously been taught in a more traditional and higher-level Mineralogy or Petrology course. Earth Materials offers students an earlier entry into the subject and is instructed by Esteban Gazel, director of undergraduate studies and associate professor in EAS. This course prepares students to identify minerals, understand their significance as a record of processes that resulted in the formation and evolution of our planet and other rocky worlds in the solar system. Lectures are complemented with labs where students will learn to identify minerals using crystallography and polarized microscopy techniques and introduce modern analytical methods such as mass spectrometry, and Raman and infrared spectroscopy, taking advantage of the new analytical facilities at EAS. Patrick Fulton, assistant professor in EAS, designed a new course called Geofluids, which focuses on the relationships between fluids and geologic processes. As part of this course, there is considerable attention given to the science of subsurface drilling and how wells and boreholes can be used to gain knowledge of the subsurface, and how the concepts learned can guide safe and successful well operations.  “Beyond the broad applicability of the topics in this course, interest and excitement in this course stems from our ability to utilize in teaching and greatly benefit from the Cornell University Borehole Observatory (CUBO) – the 3km deep characterization hole for Cornell’s Earth Source Heat project that will be drilled on campus later this year,” says Fulton. The Environmental Science concentration is particularly appealing for students looking to enter the environmental job market immediately after graduation. The program is designed to provide students with practical skills to understand and solve major environmental challenges as well as prepare them for graduate school if that is their chosen path.  According to Edward Conti, vice president, and principal geologist at EKI Environment & Water Inc. and advisory council member in Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, the environmental industry is now a major employer of earth scientists, and the need for scientists trained in rigorous math and science curriculum continues to grow.  “EAS has done a good job of creating a rigorous curriculum grounded in strong basic math and science,” says Conti. “This will prepare students well both for employment and for graduate school in specialty fields such as hydrogeology, hydrology, environmental chemistry, environmental engineering, and environmental policy.” Katie Keranen, associate professor in EAS, is developing a new experiential learning and project-based course on Hydrogeophysics that will be a key component of the Environmental Science Concentration. Students will acquire multiple types of data locally in this project-based course and will analyze and interpret the data in teams using standard software packages. Students will gain experience in methods commonly used in geotechnical and environmental studies, with applicability for either academic research or industry. The new Climate Science concentration highlights the new classes developed and faculty hired by the department to address this crucial research area and complements the climate change minor which is available through EAS. According to Natalie Mahowald, the Irving Porter Church Professor of Engineering, adding the Climate Science concentration allows the department to serve the many students interested in this area. “With the many newspaper articles about climate change’s potential impact on floods, droughts and wildfires, for example, as well as the many interesting research questions, more and more of our students want to dive deep into understanding the many facets of climate science.”  Innovations have also come to The Earth System, a course requirement for all majors within the department that provides a background that covers everything from the Big Bang and early solar system development, deep time and origin of life, up through to impacts of climate change and methods used to better understand the Anthropocene.   This year, Rowena Lowman, associate professor in EAS and instructor of the course, followed guidance given by Cornell’s Center for Teaching Innovation. One of the strongest cases made was that faculty should carefully reconsider timed exams, particularly ones that were a large component of the grade.  A truly accessible teaching style would, ideally, ensure that the students learned the material through repeatedly using it rather than memorizing material for a timed, high-stress exam.  “I certainly feel like I got to know a larger percentage of the students this past year, even if I didn’t get to know them quite as well as I do when we are in the same room,” says Lohman. “I hope to continue to learn about other tools that I can use to ensure that the full range of voices in the classroom can be heard.” Due to the global pandemic, all courses were adapted for the challenges of online and hybrid learning, but the department is looking forward to a full in-person experience next Fall. Overall, these changes to the curriculum and department as a whole will better prepare students to enter the world after graduation. The department is committed to providing a space for students to develop the skills needed to tackle the biggest threats to future generations. “We use the Earth as a natural laboratory to address fundamental questions about how nature works,” says Esteban Gazel. “This is important because solving the challenges of the 21st century, like climate change, more exposure to natural hazards, use of renewable energy,  anthropogenic impacts to environmental quality, and the responsible use of critical elements all require scientists to understand the complexities of our planet.”

Best Tips to Hire Medical Staff

Most small to big clinics and physicians understand the importance of hiring qualified medical staff. Not only hiring the right people in the clinics provides smooth working, but it also increases patient satisfaction. If you are a physician or in the department for hiring medical staff, you have to find the best and qualified staff for the clinic. Some so many individuals are looking for a job position in medical places, but how will you find the right people. Also, it’s important to consider how to afford those employees? Let’s check out the best tips for hiring clinical staff. Create a plan: Before you post a job ad on a career website or take any other approach, make sure there is a plan on hiring the staff. It will be best to create an organizational chart to decide the positions and the ways they will communicate with each other. Mainly determine the main compatibility and the responsibilities of each position. Once these things are settled, start looking for employees. Post job ads: There are some good job boards where you can post the requirements for medical staffing. Job seekers checkers register for these websites and frequently search for jobs in these places. It’s one of the cost-effective ways to find clinical employees. Also, you can sort out the proper candidates through the job sites. Give specific ads: Giving ads on career websites is easy but you have to be specific about the requirements. This way you can choose specific candidates for the job. Provide straightforward titles and proper descriptions of the job responsibilities. Add the qualification, experience required for the position. Also, you have to mention the salary expectation part for the applicants. Use social media: Social media is a great place to get candidates for clinical staffing. If you are a physician and you need some good employees for your clinic, make sure you have a business account on social media platforms. This will not only help in the growth of the business but also will assist you to hire the best talents out there. Create a LinkedIn profile and post a job requirement there, and you will get better responses from qualified individuals. Facebook and other social media are also useful when you are looking to hire qualified medical staff. You can give ads, and discuss the responsibilities for the position. Ask for referrals: Networking is still important and it works well even in this digital age. If you have just started with medical staffing, it will not be possible to ask the new employees for referrals. However, if you have a good relationship with other doctors or their clinics, it’s better to ask there for potential candidates. They will help you, as they are also connected with other networks. Flexible work schedules: In today’s world, individuals seek flexibility in their work lives. For that, most companies offer flexible working conditions for job seekers. As a clinic, you might be open 24/7 or for a specific time, no matter what the working hours are, you can give add flexible time for the candidates. This will relieve the constant workers and other people will get a chance to work as well. For instance, you had some clinical staff who worked the entire day and they even did night shifts as well. For this, you can hire people who are willing to work at night and arrive at flexible times. This is applicable for day shifts as well. This way, more qualified individuals will apply for the job position. Offer best benefits: Offer competitive salary for the medical employees. But the benefits part doesn’t stop here, as you have to offer other feasible perks to them. Other than general perks like life insurance, retirement benefits, medical help, long-term disability, and paid time off, you can add some other advantages for the medical staff. You can add a vacation period, childcare, paid gym membership, and so on. Some clinics provide partial educational benefits, provide special events for the sake of their staff. Employees love these benefits and when you put them in the description, there will be a stream of applicants. Interview the candidates: It’s best to meet the candidates in person than only taking an interview through telephone. Although, in this time the trend of remote working has increased, in the case of clinics, this is not the scenario. This is because people will come to get aid from a medical place, and there they will require proper services. So when you shortlist the candidates for the positions in your clinic, call them for a face-to-face interview. This is the best way to know an employee, especially for medical staffing. Ask them relevant questions, and assess their working capability. You have to compare the communication of the telephone with the face-to-face interview. Also, ask them to bring their current CV, so you get a quick overview of their working experience. Set the budget: Hiring more employees means you have to provide them a salary every month, for that you must have increased demand in the clinic. Based on the reputation of the medical place, you have to hire a specific number of employees. Make sure you have a plan for recruiting proper talents and ensure that you can afford it. You have to start new workers the moment demand arises in the clinic. Otherwise, it will be hard for you to cope with the budget. Hire long-term employees: Employee turnover is an issue these days. This is the reason; you should hire workers that can work for a long time. To retain the staff, you have to ensure the best benefits for them. Provide better work opportunities and growth. Offer healthy work-life balance. Know the required laws: Before hiring medical staff, you must know the laws of recruitment. Familiarize with the recruiting regulations, and avoid queries regarding marital status, race, age, religion, children, or any other area that is close to protected classes. Opt for an HR service to avoid any hassle regarding salary and employee retention. The best you can do to hire medical staffing is through a recruitment agency. Make sure you have the proper title and description for the job opening.

The Information Triangle

The relationship between Information Technolgy (IT), the scientific community and our society can be thought of as a triangle. The connections in this triangle are getting more and more complex the larger our community, and the tighter connected the networks of our society are. These developments have a large potential, but they can be a danger as well as an opportunity. It is crucial for the progress in scientific research to understand how these changes influence our work, and to address the consequences. Science Society: Our work has become much easier accessible for the laymen. As a consequence, the interaction between the scientists and the society has been changing as well. Throughout the history of mankind, it has been scientific insight that lead to changes, progress, breakthroughs, and it has caused us to re-think our place in the world. Such, the strenghened communication between the scientists and the public can have a large impact. On the other hand, there is no doubt that science is done by scientists, and the ethical and moral values of the society we live in do reflect in our community – for better or for worse. Eventually, this affects the financial support scientists receive and influences the directions of research. Science IT: Scientific progress made the technological developments possible. The question how to organize an huge amount of information efficiently, how to make available tools work best for our own benefit, how to understand the structure, dynamics and features of networks is subject of several recently established research areas. Most often interdisciplinary, this research becomes increasingly important. On the other hand, the developed tools affect the way our communities are organized, how we collaborate, compete, and form our opinions. Society IT: The way we exchange information has changed the way we communicate, how we value, and rate this information. Having new information has grown tremendously in importance, online news tickers and blogs compete with printed newspapers. In a time of information overflow, entertainment and easy accessibility are conflicting with content and quality of articles. The social structure of the internet itself, and its impact on the opinion making processes, affect our political system as well as our personal values. On the other hand, the demand for such technology provides a feedback that drives these processes.