Theoretically, this should have been my first blog post, but hey, I’m not perfect. A mindset for science is really a mindset for life, but the science field is taking a hit these days and I think those either in the field or thinking about joining the field need a “mind pep talk”. Science is tough these days, primarily due to tight funding, which is not going to change anytime soon. This puts the onus on us as scientists or scientist-wannabes to (1) do the best science possible with the money we have (which we should do anyway), (2) educate the public about the importance of science, (3) understand that scientists are getting funded, and that going back to #1 will promote #3. When funding was more abundant, scientists could hide out in their offices and think sciency-thoughts all day long. Now, however, the public is less inclined to fund the esoteric stuff and demands a return on their dollar. We, as scientists, know the esoteric stuff can lead to some major breakthroughs for both mice and men, and it’s our job to educate Joe the plumber on how this works. At the same time, if Joe educates me on how to unclog my sink, that would be great, but I digress.
How do the little people, like me, at Wright State University in Dayton, OH, educate Joe Q Public? Baby steps. Get students excited about science by exposing them to what you do and how you do it – they might consider science as a career, and they’ll tell their parents how much fun they’re having. Maybe their parents will elect congressmen who also think science is important, or maybe even better mom or dad is a senator, or even president! One bonus – even if a student doesn’t go into science, you’ve helped them learn how to think and problem solve, a win either way.
So, back to the question – what is a mindset for science? You were just about to give up on me, weren’t you? Curiosity is key. You’ve need a passion for “knowing” that will carry you through all the boring times when experiments don’t work. Dr. Uri Alon, a professor at the Weizman Institute in Jerusalem who has an interest in mindset and science, calls these times being “in the cloud”. Second, you need a growth mindset. Carol Dweck, a psychologist from Stanford, coined this term and has done a significant amount of research in this area. A growth mindset is one where you believe that you can learn something, rather than believing you can do something because you’re “smart”. The idea that you can do something because you’re smart, or even worse that you can’t do something because you’re stupid, is a very limiting belief and restricts your ability to learn and grow. The good news is that anyone can have a growth mindset – you just need a nudge from some good teachers, mentors, or even Carol’s book (see below). The growth mindset is extremely helpful in empowering scientists not only to learn how to “do science” but how to get funding. Like most things, grant writing is a skill that can be taught – however, many universities are so busy teaching science that they don’t teach the grant-writing part (or the mindset part). For universities that do both, this is a powerful combination that will generate terrific scientists and educators, who will “pay it forward” to future generations. Are you excited? I am! As the folks at Home Depot say, let’s do this thing!
For additional information:
Being “in the cloud”
Uri Alon, “Why Truly Innovative Science Demands a Leap into the Unknown”, TedGlobal, 2013. http://www.ted.com/talks/uri_alon_why_truly_innovative_science_demands_a_leap_into_the_unknown?language=en
Carol Dweck, “The Power of Believing that You Can Improve”, TedxNorrkoping, 2014.
Mindset, the New Psychology of Success (book) – available on Amazon
For information and instruction on grant writing, I recommend Dr. Morgan Giddings’ website Morgan on Science. She offers live grant writing courses 3-4 times/year that will teach you about both grant writing and mindset. In the meantime, she offers a book and other materials available through her website.
Four Steps to Funding (book) – available on Amazon