So says E.O. Wilson in the Wall Street Journal.
But don’t just read the headline – be sure to catch the nuance in Wilson’s piece. He’s saying don’t let fear of math drive you from science, because you don’t need straight A’s through four semesters of calculus to be a good scientist.
I don’t quite agree with Wilson when he says you can always find a mathematician as a collaborator to handle the math you need. A mathematically illiterate biologist working with a biologically illiterate mathematician is usually not a fruitful combination. But good scientists pick up the necessary mental toolkit as it’s needed, including mathematical and statistical knowledge (as long as they’re willing to put some serious effort into gaining that knowledge, as opposed to, say, figuring out how to mindlessly apply t-tests).
Sean Eddy calls this approach “ante-disciplinary science”: Continue reading
From Rob Phillips’ list of publications on his lab website:
A First Exposure to Statistical Mechanics for Life Scientists. (with Hernan G. Garcia, Jane’ Kondev, Nigel Orme and Julie A. Theriot), Rejected by Am. J. Phys., 2007. [online full text]
The paper itself is a great read, with some important ideas for anyone who thinks about how to incorporate more quantitative/physical concepts into our program of biology education. It also tells you that stat mech is almost effortless once you understand the Boltzmann distribution: Continue reading
They don’t tell you this in Bio 101:
Ars Technica, The Tenure Track Not Taken:
Becoming a university professor requires a lot of work for very little financial reward, compared to most other professions. In STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) fields, the minimum requirement is four years of undergraduate education, plus anywhere between four and a half and eight years of graduate studies, followed by an (ever increasing) number of years of post-doctoral work. That may get you an assistant professorship where, at a state university, the starting salary is in the $60k-70k range.
(The only other career path I have seen that has similarly low pay for exorbitant requirements is becoming a chef. In both cases, you only do them because you simply love doing them.)
While I have my doubts about how much progress the permanent inhabitants of the Santa Fe Institute actually make, this is my kind of hang-out, progress be damned:
From Newsweek via The Daily Beast
The Santa Fe Institute was founded in 1984 by a group of scientists frustrated with the narrow disciplinary confines of academia. They wanted to tackle big questions that spanned different fields, and they felt the only way these questions could be posed and solved was through the intermingling of scientists of all kinds: physicists, biologists, economists, anthropologists, and many others. Continue reading
“Academia’s Crooked Money Trail”, by Beryl Lieff Benderly, over at Science Careers
The troubles plaguing academic science — including fierce competition for funding, dismal career opportunities for young scientists, overdependence on soft money, excessive time spent applying for grants, and many more — do not arise, Stephan suggests, from a shortage of funds. In 2009, she notes, the United States spent nearly $55 billion on university- and medical school–based research and development, far more than any other nation.
The problems arise, Stephan argues, from how that money is allocated: who gets to spend it, where, and on what. Unlike a number of other countries, the United States structures university-based research around short-term competitive grants to faculty members. The incentives built into this system lead universities to behave “as though they are high-end shopping centers,” she writes. “They turn around and lease the facilities to faculty in [exchange for] indirect costs on grants and buyout of salary…” Continue reading