Monday, August 8, 2011

Last Week's Comments

As I sit here on the 9th floor of the BU Photonics building over looking the Charles River, I can't believe that this is my last week in the RET program.  Marvin and I finished our experiments last week.  Marvin spent a great deal of time on Friday trying to make sense of all the data we had collected.  I'm sure that he will be spending some time today tweaking the graphs he has created.

During this final week we wrap up several assignments that we have been working on during the last couple of weeks. Last Friday afternoon we made our final presentation to Dr. Reinhard's lab group.  This week we wrap up by make our formal presentation on Wednesday morning and then our poster session on Thursday afternoon.  We are scheduled to participate in a debriefing of the RET program on Friday morning.  Then we are done with RET - except for the three call backs during the school year.

Over the last five weeks I have made the following observations:
  1. During our brown-bag presentations, the topic of entrepreneurial skills kept coming up.  I hadn't thought about it, but with all the on-going research, it makes sense that they want to take the discoveries that they make in their labs and turn them into a "real" product.  Thus, they not only want to share with the world what they have discovered, but also they would like to realize a profit from all their hard work.
  2. I was very surprised by the discussion on the level of effort principal investigators spend writing proposals for the ever dwindling amount of available research funding.  With a "hit ratio" of around 10%, they have to write several proposals in order to have enough money to keep their labs afloat with funding to support their staff and the lab's/building's infrastructure.
  3. I am amazed at how hard the grad students - as well as the post-doc - work in the lab.  They routinely spend eleven hours a day - six days a week - working in the labs.  I have also found everyone in the lab that I was assigned to be extremely helpful.  Anytime I had a question about my project, they would stop working on their work and help me.  I was truly blessed to work with them during my time at BU.  I don't think I would have completed as much as I did with out their help.
  4. The resources in the Photonics building are tremendous!  I am still amazed at all the specialized machinery that is housed within the different labs.  When I compare how tight the science department's budget is at my school, I drooling over the resources that have been made available to me this summer.
  5. Along with the wonderful resources, the staff at the Photonics Center has been a real pleasure to work with.  Similar to the grad students, the staff - especially Paul Mak, Helen Fawcett and Bill Kallinich - have worked with me to help my project move forward.
  6. During the past five weeks I have found it very helpful to be able to speak with other middle and high school STEM teachers participating in the RET program.  I have been able to share best practices and get great input and suggestions from these teachers that I will be able to bring into my classroom starting in September.
  7. I have found that in research you need to be very flexible.  As we discovered during our two rounds of testing, what we thought would happened was not what actually happened.  If something didn't work as planned, it wasn't a failure, but an opportunity to try something else.  I enjoyed working hand-in-hand with the post doc and grad students to determine why we weren't getting the results we expected and developing a Plan "B" or "C" to get back on track.  This logical approach to research closely follows the engineering design process.  Thus, I was able to experience some of the frustrations that my students face while they do projects in my classroom.  I can bring this experience into my classroom and explain what I was feeling during my experiments this summer and hopefully make better connections with my students.
  8. I still can't get over the extremes used in the research process.  An example of what I mean by extremes are how very very small of the objects we were dealing with for our experiment.  I still have difficulty grasping the concept of how big is a micrometer or nanometer!  The concentrations of the explosive material - parts per billion or trillion - we are trying to detect with our sensor is mind blowing!  Also, the very low pressures required within some of the equipment are tough to put into perspective.
  9. I enjoyed the class on the project-based learning model.  I found that I had been doing this approach in my classroom for several projects, without knowing there was an "official" name for what I had been doing.  The class helped reinforced my thoughts that this is the best way for students to learn about engineering concepts.
  10. Finally, I found that the lab I worked in is like a family.  The older members (post docs and older grad students ) help the younger students.  Everyone pulled together to reach the same goal - success for the lab.  I found myself very glad to be assigned to this lab group.

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