May 032010
 
Authors: Seth Anthony

This is my last column as an opinion writer for the Collegian. Unlike some of my graduating colleagues, I’m still going to be around for another year as I finish my Ph.D., analyze more data and write my dissertation. And after writing opinion columns for the Collegian off and on for three and a half years, it occurred to me that I’ve never written about what I spend most of my days doing.

The life of a graduate student can be exhausting; earning a Ph.D. in chemistry, as I am doing, at CSU typically takes five or six years, and you can get so bogged down in the day-to-day frustrations of research that you sometimes lose sight of the larger picture. 

Why do I do what I do? Because science is important. 

Some days, it’s easy to look at the world and only see the ways in which “scientific progress” has had unintended and devastating consequences. At this moment, thousands of barrels of oil are leaking each day into the Gulf of Mexico, life-saving medical advances are out of reach to many because of their expense and global telecommunications networks have fostered fraud and manipulation on a global scale.

But we must also look at the future. Science is what’s going to enable us to move forward as a human race –– by allowing us to grow food for an expanding population with increasingly scarce land and water resources, by finding ways for us to produce, store and use energy more cleanly and more efficiently, by developing new medical treatments that will both lengthen human life and decrease health care costs, by taking the human race into space and ultimately to the stars themselves.

To achieve these things, we need not only researchers but educators. The millions of scientists who will lead us into the future in fields from nanotechnology to neuroscience have to be trained somewhere, and, unless our education system changes radically, that’s likely to be at our public schools and universities.

That’s where my work comes in. We’ve known for generations that instructors standing in front of a classroom reciting facts, while students dutifully take notes, commit them to memory and then regurgitate them on exams is a lousy way to do what we call “teaching.” And yet an awful lot of what goes on in the classroom, even here at CSU, looks too much like that. 

My research focuses on chemistry education understanding how students think about chemistry so that we can teach it more effectively.  

It’s vital that we have an educational pipeline which produces both the scientists and innovators who develop and use these technologies and an educated populace able to make informed decisions about them. 

I love my work because I get to immerse myself in multiple worlds and be a part of building the connections between them, taking what we know about how the mind works and translating that into what we can do in the classroom; having varied days that range from discussing the ethics of decision-making with cognitive psychologists in the morning to contemplating the formation of deep-sea methane clathrates with chemical engineers in the afternoon. 

And in the long run, I hope my work will have a larger impact. As a land-grant university, CSU admits and financially supports graduate students not only to provide them with an education, but so that we can contribute to the university’s mission to serve to the community that supports it. We should all be able to do something we love and that we believe makes a difference in the world, and CSU has afforded me an opportunity to do exactly that.

At its core, opportunity is what a university is all about the resources and freedoms we have at an institution like CSU afford us the option to explore our passions and interests. So my final challenge to you is simple: take advantage of them. Transform the world around you, and, in doing so, transform yourself. 

_Seth Anthony is Ph.D. student in chemistry, president of the Graduate Student Council, ASCSU Liason for Graduate and Professional Affairs and is in the Collegian most Tuesdays. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.
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