This is the second of our new “Ideas that Matter” podcasts, where we meet with people making a difference in higher education teaching and learning. Listen to the interview at this link.
One of the more interesting parts of building our NSF-funded R&D has been working with and gaining advice from many talented chemistry education researchers. Professor Ginger Shultz of the University of Michigan is the Principal Investigator of a project sponsored jointly by Alchemie and the Michigan Economic Growth Institute, a state-wide initiative to match companies with university-based research.
In our interview, we wanted to highlight how Professor Shultz moved from bench chemistry to educational research. She gave us great insight about the process. She also shared resources for those interested in ChemEd research, while tipping her hat to mentors who lent assistance as her research program grew. Below are our favorite excerpts from the interview:
There’s a learning curve for this as a completely different research area. Give yourself the grace to learn. You're not going to figure out how to do it all at once. My first paper, which I thought was an education research paper. It was really more of a practitioner paper. Those reviews from the manuscript along with Marcy Towns’ guidance helped me to readjust. That paper ended up being a practice paper, and I'm glad I got it out there and it kind of jolted me and said, “Okay, there's some things I need to learn.”
When I get to the place where I feel like I've exhausted what I can do on my own, then I say, who's around me that can help me learn this more? There are many people at the University of Michigan that I've reached out to. I go to people in the school of Education and talk to them. Most people are willing to give you an hour of their time so you can pick their brain and ask their questions.
I learned a lot from reading, but I also used people resources to do that. And I think that's really important. So you have to be social and put yourself out there and not be afraid to ask for help.
If you're an organic chemist, oftentimes the first time you run that reaction, it doesn't work. But you don't stop doing the reaction. You try the reaction again. The problem in education research is you may have to wait until the next term to do it again. The timescale is different, but it's okay if it doesn't work. Sometimes you have to be a little brave and you have to give yourself additional time to try something and do that. The thing I had to convince my colleagues when I want to do something in their classroom is that you can't just let me come in this one time. I need to come in and do it again.
There’s something that stands out to me that is common across all the projects that I have. And that's the intersection between chemistry, knowledge, and other forms of knowledge and understanding. So making those connections, I think that's really important in chemistry. I'm also a really curious person. I guess I like interdisciplinary things a lot. The things that stand out to me that I really enjoy the most are the things that really pushed my boundaries the most. That’s why I like our writing project because it's allowed me to learn things from economics and statistics and physics that I never knew before. I guess it's more about how much opportunity do I have to learn something new through a project.
Resources mentioned in the podcast are the following:
"Nuts and Bolts of Chemistry Education Research" ACS Symposium Series, Bunce and Cole
"Tools of Chemistry Education Research" 2012, ACS symposium series, Bunce and Cole