November 2009

Letters for Wimps? What Wimps?

I left my second position because I could see that, although it appeared that I was hired for my course development/ideas (all the right buzz words regarding students and hands-on labs/research), it was never intended that I would actually implement them. To add insult to injury, I offended my colleagues by suggesting forcefully that the curriculum needed real emphasis on core scientific skills, as opposed to the lip service one finds in the wonderful assessment plans required of all academia these days. It also didn’t help that student complaints were again showing that the customer wasn’t happy with the product, which is to say that they felt overburdened by actually having to understand concepts rather than just memorizing.

I believe that, in the future, we will have fewer and fewer new students showing up at research universities/ institutions, and, of the ones that do, the vast majority will not have the drive, perseverance and moxie required to be successful. Indeed, the false sense of confidence bestowed upon them by an educational system designed to make them feel good, rather than experience the failure required to build true self-esteem, will be shattered as they are introduced to the experiential learning that is the hallmark of our graduate/post-graduate institutions. Those who do make it through will conclude, as I did, that paying attention to serious science education isn’t worth it, and they will give it far less time, if any, than I did. Academia will have difficulty continuing to fill its research pipeline and virtually no chance to reform the educational system causing the problem. In sum, I would say that our current educational model has enabled the “helicopter parent” and is largely responsible for the demise of experiential learning and the subsequent rise of the wimp.

Best regards,

Richard W. Frazee

Dexter, Mich.



Dear Dr. Petsko,

I just read your “Wimps? What Wimps?” article and applaud you for it. Like you, I’ve been around a long time, and I worry about the (in)dependence of so many young people. As a supplier of high-end spectrophotometers, we need people who are not afraid of innovation and who embrace challenge. It is hard to find these people in the 40-year-old-and-under set.

I also have daily exposure to the assistant professor whose life is arguably too hard. Your point about publishing in “highly specialized journals” struck a chord with me. Not every good piece of work belongs in a monosyllabically titled journal. While my dad, Richard J. DeSa, had two back-to-back Science papers in 1963, the paper that changed his career path came out in Computers and Biomedical Research, which, in 1969, contained at least one word few people had occasion to know.

I hope your perspective is widely discussed and applauded, with the appropriate attitude adjustments made. “Overly ambitious” should be considered a virtue, not a flaw. Mentoring should be honored and encouraged. And senior faculty need to quiet their endless looking back to the easier funding days, etc., and recall their own unadulterated joy of making it to an academic position.

Julie Ann DeSa Lorenz

VP marketing & communications Olis Inc.,

Bogart, Ga.


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