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William C. Bonaudi Library's Down the Research Rabbit Hole | Issue 10 | Kathleen Duvall, Deans of Arts & Sciences | Seeds

by Rhonda Kitchens on 2020-12-07T21:10:00-08:00 in Library and Research Skills, Science | 0 Comments

Issue 10 Banner for Down the Research Rabbit Hole Kathleen Duvall: Seeds


What is one of the most beautiful things you have ever discovered at the end of a lengthy research process?

In science, observing is an integral part of the research process.  When we look closely at anything, we often notice qualities or characteristics that we had overlooked or just never paid attention to.  A few years ago when I taught Field Botany each spring, I would take students out to different sites throughout the Columbia Basin to collect native plants.  On these Friday field trips, we tried to be good stewards of the native habitats that we visited.  Students would collect plants that were plentiful in each habitat as they were instructed. On Monday the students would bring a sample of each plant they collected to the lab.   

This is when the real observations began.  Sometimes the flowers of the plants contained very tiny parts so we would use dissecting scopes to magnify the flowers to see and count all of the little details.  Sometimes the leaves were a funny shape or the stems of the plant had fine hairs that pointed in a certain way. In the process of looking at each collected plant, we would determine its name and its plant family.  Students would study those plant and family names so that when they saw the plants on another field trip, they would know them.  On field trip after field trip, the students continued to collect new and different plants. By the end of the seven field trips, each student had usually collected over 80 different native plants.  


Every spring, students would tell me that they no longer looked at the lands around the Columbia Basin in the same way. Now as they looked over the sagebrush landscape, they saw all of the beautiful blooming shrubs and wildflowers that they had previously overlooked.  It is not that the sagebrush lands had changed, but the change was fashioned in the eye and the mind of the observer. So, at the end of a lengthy research process, one of the most beautiful things that we can discover is something new about ourselves – what we have learned, how we have grown, what we would do differently the next time. 


What journals, conferences, periodicals, podcasts, or other sources do you read/follow to keep up with your work?

For 23 years I taught science at Big Bend Community College (BBCC).  During those years I would read science magazines like The Scientist and Scientific American. I would watch nature and science-themed shows on TV like NOVA and listen to PBS Science Fridays on the Radio.  I would attend NWBIO, a conference of my peers – Northwest biology teachers, and we would share ideas. I would use one of the Library’s search engines, ProQuest, to find journal articles on science topics of interest. 


Making the job change from faculty to dean after so many years was a big leap for me.  Now I read different books – books about leadership skills that I need to develop.  Currently, I am reading Brene Brown’s books – Daring Greatly, Dare to Lead, and The Gifts of Imperfection.  I have a stack of related books that gets taller and taller, my future reading.  I have a goal to start listening to podcasts and have a list of those I want to follow, but I am not quite there yet. 


Another resource I use to keep up with my work is talking to my colleagues and peers.  When I was a faculty member, I would talk with other faculty members about their teaching.  This started for me when I was a new part-time faculty member, and a group of faculty were meeting on selected Fridays to discuss active-learning strategies.  Jim Hamm invited me to participate in that group.  Over the years I shared office space with Brinn Harberts, one of our past Math faculty, and shared lunch times with Rie Palkovic.  In the process of sharing our teaching practices, I gleaned great ideas that enhanced my teaching, and I gained dear friends that I still keep in touch with.  Now as a dean, I have another set of peers and colleagues that are great resources for me; the other deans at BBCC as well as transfer program deans at other community colleges across the state can provide insights to me and answer questions that may come up. 


What practice in Botany informs your way of looking at information?

When I was doing research for my Master’s thesis, I performed experiment after experiment, and then I would go back again and repeat the same experiment.  In order for experimental data to be valid, it needs to be reproducible.  This establishes accuracy in the data and allows scientists to possibly draw conclusions from the data.  When I read something, I want to know about the source of that information.  I love it when someone writing an article cites their sources clearly so that I have the option of reading those sources.  


I have a second answer to this question.  When we think of the human body, we all have a general idea of how human bodies work.  We use our lungs to breathe in fresh air for oxygen and breathe out air laden with carbon dioxide.  Our heart pumps blood throughout our bodies to carry that oxygen to our cells and to pick up and carry away the carbon dioxide that eventually gets expelled with each exhale.  Plants move air in and out of their plant bodies, but they don’t have lungs. Plants move water and dissolved sugars throughout the plant, but they don’t have a heart to pump it around.  Plants can do many of the same things that our human bodies can do for us, but they do it in a completely different way.  When I am researching a solution to a problem, I may have found one solution, but there may be more than one valid approach, just like plants and humans. I often need to keep an open mind to other possible and perhaps better solutions.


Tell us about one of your most important presentations. How did you research for it? 

When I did the research for a literature review for my master’s thesis, this was a long time ago – before the days of the personal computer and the smart phone.  I had to pay my college library $50 and give them five or six keywords to feed into their big room-size computer so the computer would search the periodical indexes for me.  Hopefully, the computer would provide me with enough relevant articles to look up and use for my literature review.


Now we just get on ProQuest and enter our own words; then we sift through the list of article sources that ProQuest or another search engine generates.  The ease with which we can search the Internet and the vast amount of information at our fingertips can be a different type of challenge.  What do you do when you have too much information? You will need to figure out a way to narrow your search or to efficiently sift through the excess information.


That was the situation I found myself in back in the spring of 2017 when I was preparing for a presentation as a candidate for the dean’s position I now hold.  When a dean is hired, candidates are brought to campus for an interview and a forum.  During the forum, the candidate sits at a table upfront in a big room and anyone from the college can ask the candidate any question they wish.  There are two forums scheduled on a particular day and each forum lasts about an hour, so that adds up to two hours of questions.  How does a person prepare for that experience?  I went back to all of the resources I had – my job application, my cover letter, my resume, and the original job posting.  I studied those resources and then started making notes about my experiences at the college over the previous 23 years. I made lists about what experiences I thought that I would want to share if I were asked. I could have rationalized that there was no way to prepare and resigned myself to just wing it.  This forum, though, was too important so I prepared the best that I could.  The research process was really no different than research for a term paper, but this time I was digging into the memories of my work at BBCC to prepare to answer those questions.   

Kathleen Duvall saying about seeds. 

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