The hazards of neuroX in k-12…

Popular neuroscience myths are now considered a risk to k-12 education in the UK, story here. Money quote:

“Teachers have a very enthusiastic attitude towards the brain, but there’s no neuroscience in teacher training at the moment and that makes teachers a little bit vulnerable to the very skilled approaches of entrepreneurs in selling products that are supposedly brain-based but actually are not very scientific in their basis and have not been properly evaluated in the classroom,” warned Dr Paul Howard-Jones, a leading expert on the role of neuroscience in educational practice and policy at the University of Bristol.

Postdoctoral education….

Like many life scientists, I see the postdoctoral years as a continuation of scientific training after receiving the PhD degree. Ideally a postdoc should last no more than three years, provide the trainee with the opportunity to acquire several new methodologies above and beyond those learned during the dissertation,  result in at least two new first authorship papers and finally provide grounding in grantsmanship.

A postdoc is most definitely not a super-technician (i.e. a technician with a doctorate). As with the graduate student, there is an important mentor-trainee relationship between the laboratory PI (the mentor) and the postdoc. For this mentorship relationship to work, the PI needs to prioritize the training aspect of the fellowship at the same level as the research component. Often that doesn’t happen and it’s a shame. It should.

Additionally, there is a tendency among many post-docs to view themselves as “research assistant professors”. It doesn’t help that some institutions in fact classify postdocs as such. The problem with this self-image for the trainee is that the education component of the fellowship also becomes de-emphasized (any many PI’s have no problem with it). There may be the further problem of the trainee and PI getting at cross-purposes over who “owns” the research produced during the postdoc.

These days, a scientist may have several postdocs before going on on the job market. That’s OK within limits. Each postdoctoral fellowship should add new techniques, new scientific perspectives and increasing independence. And they should be in different laboratories lest the trainee eventually turn into a super-tech.

Back from Research Triangle

In spite of challenging weather, I had a most interesting visit to Burroughs Wellcome Fund yesterday. I learned about some very interesting STEM education approaches and a very similar interest in success stories in Finland and Singapore.

It’s clear to me that the education puzzle is central to future US economic prosperity.  My sense is that there is even national consensus on this. The devil is in the details in this case and learning what has worked for other countries is an excellent first step towards reform here.

In Finland, for example, the requirement for all K-12 teachers to earn a masters degree with a mix of pedagogy and research is admirable. But that’s for a population of 5.4 million. That simply may not be possible here in the US with a population of 300+ million. But the underlying idea of attracting the very best and the brightest to education does make sense.

So good first steps. It will be interesting to see what evolves here in the US.