You’re supposed to steer into the skid.
I did not. I was unable to correct the skid, and wound up crossing a couple of lanes of the highway. There was no oncoming traffic, and I was fine.
I was trained to do the correct thing and steer into the skid. I took driving lessons. Steering into the skid is what you’re told to do in driving school. I know this intellectually. But it’s not intuitive, you have only a split second to react, and, most importantly, we try hard not to create out of control skids. Skids are rare for people doing routine driving, especially in someplace like Southern Texas, where there are rarely icy roads.
How much time should driving instructors spend training beginning drivers to cope with skidding? There isn’t a simple answer. Someone who wants be a professional driver should get more training. A person whose driving mainly to a daily commute in a warm, semi-arid climate, may not need any training. I never practised steering a skidding ca, although I learned to drive in Canada, where icy roads are routine.
Last week, NESCent hosted a conference on journalism and reporting of evolution; something I’ve written about a fair amount here. As a possible solution to improve the situation, Melissa Wilson Sayres wrote:
Best Practice: Formal training in journalism/media communication for graduate students
(Check her original tweet for some discussion.)
This suggestion is well meaning. It’s a tempting suggestion to make for us in academia, since our entire career revolves around training in one way or another.I’ve been guilty of saying, “Every academic should make it a point to get good at... (pet topic).” But such suggestions are hard to do.
The deeper concern is whether “formal training in graduate school” can what we want it to do.
For instance, there has been a lot of interest in having students receive training in research ethics. Funding agencies love these. Some set aside specific pots of money to supplement training programs so that those programs can include training in ethics. Despite that, the Retraction Watch blog has no shortage of material, and most retractions are due to unethical behaviour on the part of the authors (Fang et al. 2012).
As an instructor, obviously I am not going to say that training is entirely useless. Rather, I am saying that training happens in a larger context. There is a great big ol’ reward system in place in academic science. Academic science rewards you for original peer reviewed journal articles, preferably in a small set of journals with a high impact factors (the “glamour mags”), and grants. The rewards for getting those things are large.
Similarly, despite training about sexual harassment, there’s still a lot of pig-headed, boorish, sexist behaviour in the workplace. Again, note that I’m not saying that such training is useless, but that there is a lot of cultural baggage that can’t quickly be overcome by “formal training.”
First, there is no central authority that says, “YEA VERILY, ALL GRADUATE PROGRAM SHALL TEACH...” Trying to implement any formal training across the board is tough, given that grad students are spread across thousands of independent fiefdoms.
And let’s not underestimate how long “communication training” would take. As Karen James wrote:
I’ve been working at (communicating outside a research field) for a decade and still not there.
Graduate students get a lot of formal training already. There has to be a point where we stop adding to their curriculum. We can’t just send students to a workshop, or even a semester long class, then dust off our hands and say, “They’ve been trained.” Communication training won’t matter much until there are rewards and opportunity for people to practice those skills, day in, day out, until it becomes like steering into the skid: when you don’t even have to think it through.
Fang FC, Steen RG, Casadevall A. 2012. Misconduct accounts for the majority of retracted scientific publications. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(42): 17028-17033. http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1212247109
“We cheated death”
Reporting Across the Culture Wars: Engaging Media on Evolution
Photo by Sugar Daze on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.