The wide-eyed undergrads finding their way around campus are always fun to see (except for how they inevitably remind me that I'm not getting any younger). But I particularly look forward to meeting the new graduate students who are beginning their master's or doctoral program. These are the students in whose training I will be most involved. And given how much time I will invest in them, I really want them to succeed. I want them to be the best scientists and/or professionals they can.
One would hope that most new graduate students already have fairly well-developed critical thinking skills, and this generally seems to be the case. What they may not have had, however, are opportunities to apply these skills in the scientific domain. One of the first things we'll start talking about will be appropriate topics for student research. Potential topics are framed in terms of research questions with testable hypotheses, and two questions are crucial:
- What does the scientific literature tell us about this question?
- How would we test the hypotheses?
This interface of science and education is the part of my job I most enjoy. By the time a doctoral student graduates, he or she is going to know more than I do about his or her topic of study. I get to see the student surpass me in this regard, and that is the moment when I realize that all the time and energy I have invested in them pays off. It also reminds me that my role is not about teaching them what to think but teaching them how to think.