BE Board:Dinner Discussion

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Monday Night Dinner Discussions at the BE Retreat

Under inspiration from responses to the "Future of BE" panel discussion, we have decided to make the Monday evening dinner a time to shoot the scientific breeze with your tablemates. We are all at MIT because of a simple fascination with the far-ranging and radical ideas that arise from scientific study and innovation. We hope that this discussion will delve back into that childlike wonder and those crazy and almost inconceivable ideas that we all have but don't get to share with our mentors or students.

Logistics: Each table will ponder the applicability and possible impacts of biological engineering to a specific world problem. A leader at each table (we will need volunteers!) will prepare a 1-page summary of the world problem ahead of time, so that each table member will have at least be slightly informed of some of the facts and figures. After this initial seeding, feel free to take the discussion in any direction you want! We would also like to get feedback from the discussions on Tuesday. Each table generates a small cartoon/diagram/sketch of their most feasible/least feasible/coolest/funniest ideas, to be displayed at breakfast the next morning and presented after the Tuesday morning poster session.

Possible Topics and Table Leaders

If you are interested in researching/producing the one-page summary (this will be done in pairs) and initiating your table's discussion, email Danielle France and add your name next to the topic.

Top 8 Topics

One-page Sample Summary on Global Energy Supply: Illustrator Format or pdf Format Feel free to use these templates or generate your own.
You will be responsible for printing out 10 copies for your table and bringing them to the Monday night dicussion. Feel free to email with any questions.

Additional topic suggestions

These are just a couple of additional topics which might generate interesting discussion, however, they don't follow the general pattern above.

  • Teamwork in academic science, could if be helpful? Should it be encouraged?
    • Lots of ways to define "teamwork" here. A specific question would be, "why do graduate students work alone on the majority of thesis projects?" This supposedly teaches self-discipline and seeing a project through to its conclusion, but it also seem to discourage collaboration and playing well with others. So is it a good thing?
  • How can a new professor learn to be a good manager, teacher and how does one learn these skills?
  • What is the objective of getting a PhD? Are there a standardized set of expectations for someone who gets a PhD? Should there be?
  • What is the role of open source in science?
  • Can people be taught to "think" or "problem solve"? How? Is this a part of the educational process? Can it be tested?
    • How can PhD programs be designed to encourage student's to pursue their own project ideas? - for instance Pam Silver has challenged the harvard system biology students that if they can justify their own "crazy" project idea to her that wouldn't fall into a single lab, she'll arrange to have them funded accross labs, etc (no one has taken her up on it yet).
  • Is there room in science for a reward system to supplement authorship on a peer-reviewed paper?
    • Since peer-reviewed authorship is the principle means of advancing your career it has a major impact on scientific interactions. For instance, a collaboration can often only be brokered with assurance of shared authorship. Would a more granular reward system (e.g. if you help me you will get some value to your career which is >0 but less than authoship) allow for increased collaboration? It seems it would be easier to coordinate a project with 10 people contributing if it didn't need to have 10 authors at the end, maybe not.
  • Is there a better publishing model than the current one?
    • The current publishing model is slow and static - research gets published >1 year after it is completed and feedback on manuscipts is provided by a very small cadre of reviewers. On the other hand, this deliberate process helps prevent fraudulent research, and maintains a high signal/noise ratio in the scientific literature. Is there a better balance?
    • Some thoughts on this are here.
    • This was talked about at the last retreat as the discussion topic brought up by Reshma in the student panel and had a pretty lively discussion then.

--Amn 09:11, 9 February 2006 (EST)

I really like these topics, it seems like general topics like this will be more successful at generating productive discussion between people with different research backgrounds. For instance, I don't think I'd have much to say about AIDS research among other things on the first list. In particular, amy's topics benefit from having people with diverse backgrounds since different labs/fields have different cultures regarding approaches to openness, problem-solving, teamwork, etc... I think almost anyone could contribute to these discussions. Though I would suggest for these topics (or even the first set) that we try and define some "discussion points" or provide examples since they are quite broad. That said, there are some topics from the first list that probably would be general enough to be approachable by all as well. --JK

I would be in favor of a mixed set of topics from the first and second list. The idea of having a 1 page summary (as outlined in the logistics section at the top) should provide plenty of talking points even for the non-specialists. It might be useful if people knew which table they were assigned to before the retreat to allow people to do a bit of cramming if they are feeling super-eager--BC 16:01, 9 February 2006 (EST)