My boss is having a conference put on in his honor. I guess that’s how you know you’re a big wig in the field: when colleagues decide that the best way to celebrate your 90th birthday is to bring in around 190 scientists from across the globe to talk about progress in a field of research you basically invented… I think it’s safe to say you’ve “made it”.
Tonight is the poster session part of the John B. Goodenough Symposium in Materials Science and Engineering (the invited talks are tomorrow). For those of you who are unfamiliar, a poster session is basically when graduate students lay out some aspect of their research on a big sheet of paper and hang it up in a big room where other graduate students do the same. It’s pretty much a science fair for grownups.
The graduate students then stand in front of their posters nervously sorta-kinda wanting one of the visiting professors to take interest and sorta-kinda wanting to be left alone for fear of feeling stupid. As you progress in your graduate career, the hope is you start to want the former rather than the latter.
Since I’m trying to wrap up during the next year, and have talked about this subject a few times (including at the APS March Meeting this year), I’m definitely feeling like I want to present my poster. Which is comforting. Because I also am going to try and impress everybody who comes up to me to the point they want to hand me a job next year…
We’ll see. In any case, it’ll be a good experience just getting comfortable in with “networking,” which has never come naturally for me.
This isn’t the first time those of us working with the Materials Interdisciplinary Research Team have met the impressive young women from the Ann Richards School (ARS). ARS, for those of you who don’t know, is a public charter school in the Austin Independent School District with 6th through 12th grade students (this year is their first class of seniors!). The school provides a robust engineering pathway for high school girls with a focus on helping them build a foundation to succeed in college, their careers and their communities.
Back in May, we hosted four ARS juniors for a one-week internship during which they were able to see how we conduct graduate-level research, and got to do a little research of their own! Over the course of that week they made their own batteries from scratch (using three types of cathode materials) and then tested them to determine the best uses for each type of cathode. And when I say from scratch… I mean scratch: they synthesized their own cathode materials from the raw chemicals!
Ok… enough about last May. Let’s get to this Monday. I couple of days ago I had the privilege of heading down to ARS to teach their Digital Electronics class (Yes: they have a Digital Electronics class. Yes: my jaw hit the floor, too.) about how the batteries they were plugging into their breadboard circuits worked.
I found that while putting together my lesson plan, my strategy of “keep it as simple as possible” worked really well. But it may not be for the reason you would think. That is, the strategy’s main point wasn’t to overly simplify the material for the sake of the students… it was to keep me from diverging onto too many tangents that missed the main point.
Believe me: there were certainly tangents and clarifications. But all of the side steps were prompted by really smart and thought-out questions by the students and their teacher Shireen Dadmehr. If I had allowed my own tangents to get in the way, I don’t think there would have been the space for the students to make those leaps of thought on their own. I like to think that’s where the real learning takes place: in being able to draw the connections yourself.
I had a great time interacting with these bright young women, and hope to see some of them again during our internship program next Spring. Many thanks to Christy Aletky, our Outreach Coordinator, and Shireen Dadmehr for making this opportunity possible!