Center for Values News
The University of Texas at Dallas’ Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology has been awarded a grant from the National Science Foundation to study how learning and mentoring occurs in a research lab.
According to the center’s director, Dr. Matthew Brown, the work will touch on both social science and humanities research.
“The common assumption is that research experience in the laboratory is a crucial educational activity, but there’s actually been very little research about that,” he said.
Brown, associate professor of philosophy and history of ideas in the School of Arts and Humanities, said the research will be done mostly through direct observation, rather than by surveys.
The $350,000, three-year grant is the second NSF award directed to the Center for Values, as well as to the School of Arts and Humanities. A project in 2013 focused on ethical decision-making among student engineering research teams.
The investigation team for the new project includes Brown as principal investigator, as well as Dr. Magdalena Grohman, associate director of the Center for Values; Dr. Eun Ah Lee, research associate at the center; and Dr. Nicholas Gans, a former UT Dallas clinical associate professor who is now division head of Automation & Intelligent Systems at The University of Texas at Arlington Research Institute.
Researchers will look at how laboratory experience prepares undergraduates who plan to enroll in graduate school, as well as how current graduate students learn and interact with newer, less-experienced lab members.
“There hasn’t been a lot of research done on the graduate education experience, such as the transition between undergraduate and graduate school,” Grohman said. “We want to document the experience that occurs for such a student in a lab setting.
“We will be looking for what they do with each other as they collaborate, work on their own, interact with their supervisor, as well as how they solve problems and how they deal with the various experiences they have during the lab work.”
The research will focus on a single engineering research lab, with a researcher maintaining a regular presence in the lab for an entire year, along with video documentation of the lab. The coverage could expand to a second lab as the project progresses.
“We’re there for a long period and gathering lots of rich data. But we’re not comparing a bunch of labs; acquiring general knowledge about what happens in all labs is not the goal of the project,” Brown said. “The goal is to get a sense of what kinds of learning activities are possible. That could help build the kinds of research studies that would be more generalizable.”
The researchers hope to identify practices that could eventually be included in an assessment that will capture what students actually learn and experience in labs.
“We hope that by understanding the activities in one or two labs we can potentially develop measures that could then be used in future experiments on learning,” Brown said.
New research from UT Dallas indicates that values should play a bigger role in the study of science in schools.
The research, which appears in the journal Science & Education, found that students typically do not explore predetermined values or evaluate whether they are appropriate to the particular issue they are examining.
Dr. Matthew Brown, an associate professor in the School of Arts and Humanities, and director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology, said the research shows the importance of teaching science in a way that helps students engage their knowledge of science with social questions.
“You can get students to regurgitate facts, and you can get them to work problems. But getting them to connect what they know about the scientific method or particular areas of science to social issues or policy decision-making is rare,” he said.
Working with Dr. Eun Ah Lee MS’16, MA’16, the UT Dallas research associate who initiated the project, Brown built on arguments espoused by John Dewey, an American philosopher and psychologist who contended that scientific inquiry should include value judgments and that conducting inquiry can improve the ability to make good value judgments.
“What has been found is that when it comes to social issues, people make decisions based on their values,” he said. “So what we are arguing for — and this is what philosophers of science have been arguing for a while — is that there is actually an interaction between the science and the values.”
To read the full article, as it appears in the Fall 2017 Edition of UTDallas Magazine, please visit blurred lines.
The excerpt appearing below has been sampled to feature only School of Arts & Humanities staff and faculty who appeared in the original article.
Blurred Lines: Artists and Scientists Are More Alike Than Different
While the traditions and audiences of scientists and artists may be diverse, the creative processes they use to achieve success are more alike than different, and they are motivated by the same shared goal — to understand and describe the world around them and to communicate that understanding and insight to others. At UT Dallas, researchers often blur the lines between science and the humanities, using concepts and tools from the arts to inspire or inform scientific inquiry, and vice versa.
Dr. Alexander Fleming was a Scottish bacteriologist and an amateur painter, mostly with watercolors. He also would paint faces and figures in another medium — bacteria — carefully placing microbes of different strains in a Petri dish so that as they matured, their various colors would form a scene. Fleming’s experience with pigments and painting may well have contributed to one of the most significant scientific discoveries of the 20th century — the first modern antibiotic, penicillin. That discovery resulted when he noticed the abnormal appearance of bacteria in a dish that had been invaded by the penicillin mold while he was away on holiday.
“We see quite often in the literature that people are able to take experience in one domain and by means of analogy, use that experience in another domain,” said Dr. Magdalena Grohman, associate director of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology in the School of Arts and Humanities at The University of Texas at Dallas. “That can broaden your possibility of inspiration and, later, a solution. If it weren’t for the fact that Fleming was using bacteria to paint, would he have recognized that something unusual had happened when he saw penicillin mold growing in a dish?”
Defining Creativity Across Disciplines
Since she was a high school student in her native Poland, Grohman has been interested in the psychology of creativity, creative thinking and the creative process. At UT Dallas she teaches courses on creativity, including how it is measured and defined. Students from a mix of majors take her survey class.
When asked whether creativity and inspiration are different among traditional artists versus scientists, she said the issue is complex.
What is known, she said, is that creative people across domains are good at defining a problem, as opposed to strictly solving a problem.
“In cognitive psychology it has been shown that people who spend more time on constructing the problem often come up with more novel, useful and unique solutions to the problem,” Grohman said. “In scientific inquiry, this will be trying to define the problem to solve, while in artistic domains, it may be choosing the right idea to convey.”
While some psychologists contend that creativity is domain specific — it’s different for a mathematician and a poet, for example — others say it is domain general, she said. The debate is open.
“But what we do know from the areas of cognitive psychology and personality research is that there is strong evidence that creative people across domains share one trait: They are open to experience,” she said.
This characteristic includes being imaginative, inquisitive and curious, and having the propensity to hold two mutually exclusive thoughts, Grohman said. It’s also being open to “weird associations” and recognizing atypical analogies or connections in the world around us.
Can Music Make You Smarter?
Whether it’s the physicist who plays the guitar or the sculptor who does backyard astronomy, from a psychological standpoint it’s tricky to prove that experience in one domain can make someone actually perform better in another domain.
“This kind of transfer is hard to prove,” Grohman said. “We still don’t know if that happens or not.”
Dr. Kathryn Evans is on a mission to find out.
Evans started out wanting to be a mathematician. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in math and taught the subject. But she also has always had a passion for music, so she got a master’s in performance and has toured the world as a vocalist and conductor. In the 1990s, she came to UT Dallas to help restart the campus’s music and arts programs. She currently teaches vocal and choral performance in the School of Arts and Humanities and is working on developing curriculum across the arts, sciences and humanities with colleagues in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication. In the spring of 2018, she will teach a class called Music, Science and Technology, open to students in any major.
With both math and music constantly in her thoughts, Evans began wondering why certain people pursue both the arts and science, and why those in STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math — often are also good musicians.
For her doctoral dissertation in the ATEC program, Evans surveyed UT Dallas students about their experience studying music, performing music and in sound design, and how those experiences related to their academic performance in other areas. The student population offered a unique pool: About three-quarters of UT Dallas students major in a STEM field.
“We found there was something about studying music theory that was the No. 1 indicator of academic success,” said Evans, who earned her PhD in 2016.
Music theory involves analyzing the structure of musical pieces, including drilling down to smaller and smaller bits like individual notes, measures and phrases, which leads to a greater understanding of the whole.
“Having to break a big piece down into little pieces — and practice it over and over again — well, that’s how you learn stuff,” Evans said. “That’s how you learn biochemistry, or how to move your fingers on the violin. That’s how you learn the Krebs cycle, which is how we digest our food to get energy.
“That’s what these students said music had taught them.”
The next step for Evans will be trying to test whether experience in one domain actually improves performance in another.
“It’s not as clean as saying, ‘If you can do this, you can do that.’ This type of skills transfer is diffuse and hard to prove,” she said, echoing Grohman’s perspective. “It’s not as simple as saying, if your kid takes music theory and can identify the key of A major, then they’ll be able to figure out stochastic chemistry. It’s not that clean and simple.”
What is clear is that in both the creative and the scientific realms, it takes multiple steps — and sweat — to reach that “Aha!” moment, Grohman said. Innovators who are passionate about their pursuits will spend hour upon hour in the most boring aspects of that pursuit before reaching a final product, she said.
“Success comes only after you go through a certain process,” Evans added. “Whether it’s music or drawing or sculpture or particle physics, the process has a lot to do with breaking the subject down into smaller pieces that are manageable, until your mind puts all those pieces together in a whole that makes sense.”
The Big Picture
As UT Dallas researchers and students practice creativity and inspiration in artistic and scientific endeavors — and often both — Evans cautions that universities and educators should keep their eyes on the big picture.
“One of the takeaways from my time at UT Dallas and my research is that having experience in those two domains, what some consider very disparate areas, is really valuable,” she said. “This is why I worry about us losing one or the other as kids come into college. We have a creeping major problem, where departments keep adding requirements to the point where they essentially lock out everything else that a student could do. Some students take only one course in the arts, or maybe only one science elective, and then they work on their major. And I think that’s terrible. To experience all the other things in life that also matter, that maybe make us human, is also important.
“It’s clear that we need both/and, not either/or.”
The Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at UT Dallas will welcome guest speaker Dr. Joan Slonczewski on March 23 to discuss “good viruses” and how they might enhance our health.
Her talk at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday in the Jonsson Performance Hall will dive into reasons why viruses in the blood and gut offer innumerable health benefits that scientists are just beginning to understand.
“Viruses that cause disease are a small fraction of all the viruses in nature,” Slonczewski said. “Some viruses exist normally in our blood. Other viruses became part of our own DNA, where they evolved into essential human genes.”
Slonczewski, who studies the evolution of bacteria and viruses as a biology professor at Kenyon College in Ohio, originated the concept of the Mitochondrial Singularity — the idea that humans are gradually becoming “the mitochondria of their own machines.”
She is also a successful science-fiction author, having written novels such as A Door Into Ocean and, most recently, The Highest Frontier. Her work explores microbes, ecological disasters, feminism and genetic engineering, among other topics.
“We’re very pleased to have Joan Slonczewski as our next speaker in our series of lectures on ‘Viruses, Vectors, and Values’,” said Dr. Matthew Brown, director of the Center for Values. “Professor Slonczewski continues the goal of the series, to explore the social values and cultural meanings associated with viruses, disease, epidemics, vaccinations and public health. She brings a unique perspective that comes from her melding of natural science and literature. In her own work, she represents the mixing of the “two cultures” that is central to the mission of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science, and Technology.”
Her talk is part of the annual lecture series presented by the Center for Values. In April, Maya Goldenberg from the University of Guelph in Ontario will discuss vaccine education and psychology in light of the anti-vaccine movement.
The Center for Values is one of UT Dallas’ more than thirty research centers and promotes public understanding of the role that technology and scientific discovery play in shaping contemporary culture.
The opening of Affinities, a new exhibit of images from the Jerry and Marilyn Comer Photography Collection, will kick off a varied week of arts events at UT Dallas.
Luis Mallo, Passengers, included in the Comer Collection
The exhibit’s opening reception is Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m. in the University Theatre Gallery.
The Comer Collection captures scenes of American life from the middle to late 20th century. Jerry Comer, who earned a master’s degree in management from UT Dallas in 1977, donated his personal collection of photos to the University in 2004.
Photos in the exhibit include works by Larry Fink, Andrea Modica, Luis Mallo, Rufus O. Lovett, Andres Serrano and Paula Willmot Kraus.
Other events for the week include:
Faculty @ 5: Elledanceworks, Wednesday, Feb. 8, at 5:30 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance Hall. An informal presentation of several original works by the Elledanceworks Dance Company will be followed by an open discussion with the choreographers and dancers, led by co-directors Ronelle Eddings and UTD faculty member Michele Hanlon.
Center for Values Discussion Forum:Ethics and the Military Funding of Research, Wed., Feb. 8 at 7:30 in GR 2.530. The discussion will examine what ethical issues arise as academic researchers decide whether to accept funds from the military and from defense contractors. Speakers include Dr. Emily Tobey, Dr. Nicholas Gans, Dr. Andrew Blanchard and Dr. Marjorie Zielke.
C.D. Wright, One With Others
Poetry Reading: C.D. Wright, Thursday, Feb. 9, at 8 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance Hall. The award-winning poet C.D. Wright will read from her most recent collection of poetry, One with Others, which won a National Book Critics Circle Award and was a National Book Award finalist.
Erin Hannigan and Friends, Saturday, Feb. 11, at 8 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance Hall. Erin Hannigan, principal oboe player of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, will be joined by other members of the DSO wind section, Deborah Baron (flute) and Gregory Raden (clarinet), as well as pianist Gabriel Sanchez.
All events are free to students with UT Dallas photo IDs at the venue box office the night of the event. Discounts are available to faculty, staff, alumni, retirees and students from other universities. Email the Arts and Performance Office, or call (972) UTD-ARTS for more information.
What do the sages of antiquity have to tell a modern audience about growing old? More than we may realize, says William B. Irvine, author of A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy.
A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy by William B. Irvine, Oct. 26.
The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber, Oct. 27.
The Wright State University philosophy scholar will lecture Wednesday, Oct. 26, about the Stoic philosophers’ advice on aging well.
The presentation is a collaboration between two UT Dallas centers: the Center for Vital Longevity and the School of Arts and Humanities (A&H) Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology.
“The Stoic philosophy of life may be old, but it merits the attention of any modern individual who wishes to have a life that is both meaningful and fulfilling – who wishes, that is, to have a good life,” Irvine says.
Irvine’s talk starts at 7:30 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance Hall.
Other A&H events this week include a fiction reading, concert, dance performances and art exhibit openings.
Fiction writer Ann Weisgarber will discuss her debut novel The Personal History of Rachel DuPree, which was nominated for England’s Orange Prize and the Orange Award for New Writers. In the U.S., her book has won the Steven Turner Award for Best Work of First Fiction and the Langum Prize for American Historical Fiction. Weisgarber will speak Thursday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m. in the Jonsson Performance hall.
Author Rebecca Skloot will visit The University of Texas at Dallas on Wednesday, March 2, to discuss her best-selling book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
The lecture, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. in the UT Dallas Conference Center, is being offered by the University’s Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology in partnership with Arts & Letters Live, the Dallas Museum of Art’s literary and performing arts series.
Skloot’s nonfiction book tells the story of tobacco farmer Lacks, a poor Baltimore mother of five who died of cervical cancer in 1951 at age 31. Doctors at Johns Hopkins removed cancerous cells from her body – without her family’s knowledge – that wound up leading to significant breakthroughs in medical research, ranging from helping in the development of the cure for polio to AIDS-related treatments.
The book blends the story of the groundbreaking science enabled by Lack’s unusually resilient cells with the devastation that her death and the medical research process had on her family.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which took more than a decade to research and write, instantly became a New York Times best-seller. Writer and director Alan Ball has teamed with Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films to produce an HBO program based on the book.
Skloot is a science writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times Magazine; O, The Oprah Magazine; Discover; and other publications. She is also a contributing editor at Popular Sciencemagazine and has worked as a correspondent for NPR’s RadioLab and PBS’ Nova ScienceNOW.
With the launch of its second serious game, the UT Dallas Values Game Initiative once again hopes to provoke deep discussions and morality checks.
Endless Life, created by gaming students in the UT Dallas Arts and Technology (ATEC) program, presents a humorous view of what life-extending technology could do to a society. The game made its debut online Nov. 15.
“As science and technology allow us to extend our lives indefinitely, how will we deal with the monotony of everyday life?” Jacob Naasz, one of the game’s core developers, writes on the game website. “And when death doesn’t occur naturally or due to illness, but through accidents and mishaps, how many of us will retreat into our homes or other ‘safe’ places instead of fully living our lives? Endless Life invites players not only to laugh, but also to engage in conversations about the potential effects that longer lives might have on our workplaces, our homes and ourselves.”
Players control the game’s character with arrow keys and the spacebar. Every day the character goes to work, and if he survives the day, he returns home with points. If he doesn’t make it home, he loses points. But if he chooses to stay home, no more points can be earned. The goal of the game is to collect as many points as possible, but to what end?
Said Dr. Monica Evans, assistant professor in the ATEC program and project supervisor, “The wonderful thing about Endless Life is that it tackles very serious subjects – namely, our quality of life and our sometimes irrational fear of untimely death – with humor. A lot of that humor comes through in the game’s numerous animations, so we’re very lucky to have such talented students in that field.”
The Values Game Initiative is a project intended to create and develop serious games that further the mission and themes of the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology at UT Dallas. These games are designed to teach and explore pressing issues through new models for digital education. The games tie into the Center’s Incite Your Curiosity lectures, a series focused on the possibilities and implications of human enhancement. The first game to be produced, Marching Ever Onward, first appeared on the Center for Values website Sept. 20.
The game design team, made up of 16 graduate and undergraduate ATEC students who serve roles from animator to sound designer to programmer, aims to produce the remaining games by the end of the lecture series in April.
“As our worlds become smarter, and get to know us better and better,” writes cognitive scientist Andy Clark, “it becomes harder and harder to say where the world stops and the person begins.”
What role does one’s environment plays in shaping the nature of conscious experience?
Clark, the chair of logic and metaphysics at Edinburgh University, will discuss this and other related topics in his lecture, “Natural-born Cyborgs? Reflections on Bodies, Minds and Human Enhancement,” on Wednesday, Oct. 20, at 7:30 p.m. in Davidson Auditorium in the School of Management at The University of Texas at Dallas.
This event is part of UT Dallas’ “Incite Your Curiosity: Exploring Human Enhancement” lectures, presented by the Center for Values in Medicine, Science and Technology. The lecture is free and open to the public.