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William C. Bonaudi Library's Down the Research Rabbit Hole | Issue 5 | Lindsay Groce: There is Joy in the Journey

by Rhonda Kitchens on 2020-07-05T07:09:00-07:00 in Library and Research Skills, Science | Comments

Image of Lindsay Groce with Issue 5 heading

 

Interview with Lindsay Groce, Chemistry Instructor at Big Bend Community College. 

What is your mental space when it comes to research?  Do you have a plan? Are you random?  Is it a research rabbit hole or a carefully planned expedition?

 

I did a presentation one time that was an attempt at inspirational and I talked about how most people think of success as linear.  You learn the things, you earn the piece of paper, you get the job, etc.  My trajectory has always been a little on the non-linear side…in life, so too with research.  Well, it might be linear, but on some sort of wacky 2-dimensional surface – I am picturing, like, a Möbius strip, or an M.C. Escher drawing.  I try to approach research with the same curiosity that draws me to science.  I like to put myself in the mindset of a scientist, which I think in our heart of hearts, is really the mindset of a child, wondering at the world around us.  “I wonder why…” is an expression that never ceases to excite me.  From there, you springboard into resources – What all can I learn about this?  What background info do I need to better understand the mechanisms for why this happens?  This leads to some answers, but usually more questions and then you just go from there.  I can be more disciplined in my approach, but I usually choose not to.  I am a big fan of the research rabbit hole – there is joy in the journey.  

 

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To keep up with your profession, what are your go-to books, blogs, journals, social media follows, and/or people?

 

I have been a member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since I was an undergrad.  I keep up-to-date on chemistry stuff there – Journal of Chemical Education is one I have spent time wading around in lately.  I follow a lot of the pop-science Instagram and Facebook pages – IFLS, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Crash Course, Scientific American, Popular Science, and of course ALL of the science memes.  I participated in the March for Science a few years ago in Seattle, so there is a group of scientists from a variety of disciplines that have an active Facebook page I like to follow (March for Science – Seattle).  In terms of authors and personalities, I will forever love me some Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Carl Sagan, Hank Green, Bill Bryson, Michio Kaku, Sam Kean – I tend toward the scientists that also take seriously their role of public educator…they also tend to be the best storytellers!  I love books about the history of science, in general; chemistry, specifically; and the periodic table – The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, I just read The Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson, The Elements by Theordore Grey (which is visually stunning along with interesting facts).  Part of my teaching style involves telling stories about the personalities, embedding discoveries in their historical contexts, and trying to put real faces and circumstances to the science.  

What's the best presentation or workshop you have ever pulled together in the name of science excellence?

 

It took me 5 years to do what is traditionally a 2-year Masters program because I was working on it part-time while I was working full-time.  In the summer before my last year, I went into my advisor’s office and said, “I know that you will be invited to speak at an international conference next year [he always got international invites – he is kind of a big deal].  I want you to pick one and take me with you.”  That was how I got to go to Japan.  My research was in its final stages, but the story the data were telling was not coming together the way we hoped.  I had to put together a poster with the data we had and our best ideas as to what it all meant.  I gave the poster presentation on my research during my allotted session and was selected for one of three Outstanding Student Poster awards that were given based on votes and feedback from the conference attendees.  It was a huge honor.      

 

Lindsay Groce in googles

What would people be surprised to know about you?

 

I think that people might be surprised to know that I was not originally interested in teaching.  It is so much a part of who I am now; it is sometimes hard for even me to believe that.  My plan when I graduated was to work in a lab somewhere and be a scientist.  I was not picturing having the opportunity to train future scientists.  I feel very fortunate that Big Bend took a chance on me so that I could try it out and experience the elation of watching light bulb moments, being present for important milestones for the students, and help guide them towards whatever all comes next academically and life-wise.

How do you approach the finding sound answers in what seems like a whirlpool of pseudoscience?

 

First of all, I love this question.  It is so timely and important.  When I start any class at the beginning of a quarter, we go back and talk about the scientific method.  All of the students can go through the rote, monotone recitation of the scientific method, but I try to get them to really start using it - to start thinking like scientists.  This involves being skeptical, asking questions, and being curious.  We can apply this to finding sound answers in the wonderful and terrible thing that is the internet.  We find a claim, whether it is something about the utility of masks for preventing the spread of COVID-19, or the current record high temperatures in Siberia and then it is the 5 W’s.  

Who: Who is telling the story and what do they have to benefit from telling it that way?  Do I trust the source that the information is coming from (and we could get into what all would go into earning that trust – peer review, scientific track record, qualifications, who paid for the study?, etc.)?     

What: What are the data telling me?  Go straight to the graphs.  Analyze the axes.  Look at the scope and scale of the collection of the data – Is it a big sample size?  Does it represent the population it claims to?  How was it collected?  Is there a valid trend?

Where: What is the source of this information/claim?  Who is the intended audience?  Where is the information published?  Why is it coming from this source in particular?  

When: Why is this being presented at this way at this time?  Is the storytelling political?  Is it urgent?  Is it even current?  Check the date.  

     

Why: The why part is encompassed in some of the other W’s, but ultimately, why is this claim being made?

 

So, really, there are a couple of pieces to this.  First, you have to do some critical thinking about the claims that you see.  Second, you have to understand that science is a process.  Science is a method by which we know things about the world.  As such, when you are in the middle of an experiment, or an experience that is being studied, the models created to explain the various phenomena are subject to change. 

 

It is hard to make valid conclusions in the middle of collecting data.  As scientists, it is our role to interpret and report findings to the best of our ability with the data that are available.  That does not mean that things will not change in the next week or the next year or the next decade.  That is the beauty of science, its fluidity.  The value of the scientific method is in the way we can change our minds and models as new information becomes available.  When we are researching claims made on the internet, or even just reading headlines on the internet, we have to be scientists. 

 

Everyone could use a little more science these days.    

 

STEM cat image...if you are going to stem..you have to CHEM!

 


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