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Big Research Topics; Group Work

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One of the most precious attributes of being an academic is the great freedom of choosing the problems and issues in one’s scholarship. The restrictions on choice are, admittedly, larger when one is pre-tenure. Those early years are ones that demonstrate the ability to have an independent, integrated research agenda that yields multiple products and demonstrably some thematic consistency. This often limits risk taking of the scholar as the focus needs to have high odds of peer review support. Compared to other professions, however, even that restriction is rather minor. Even then, one’s curiosity and hunches for innovation are given large import.

Of course, after the demonstration of independent scholarship is achieved, and tenure, received, the faculty member is given even greater freedom. It is interesting to note the findings that many faculty at that point feel some loss of direction – a post-tenure depression, as it were. Part of this, no doubt, is due to the fact those pre-tenure restrictions are removed. (The other interpretation one hears, in a type of gallows humor, is that one begins to question whether all the work pre-tenure was worth it.)

It is great to talk to faculty who are newly tenured as they deal with this new freedom of choice. Some for the first time contemplate projects that will take many years to complete. Others consider learning new research skills that they judge are high-risk but high potential payoff. Some feel emboldened to take on a new perspective using blends of multiple disciplines. For these, there is a sense of renewal, excitement of taking on new challenges.

A special joy for a provost is to see some of this freedom lead to new collaborations across fields that normally don’t work together. Groups of collaborators with multiple perspectives maintain an energy that is rare in more homogeneous groups. The energy seems to come from the shared experiences of learning from one another. Sustainable voluntary collaborations generally consist of folks who mutually respect one another. In some sense, they know they need each other to complete their understanding. They exchange teaching the other and learning from the other. Perfect reciprocation.

Of course, they never can fully exchange all the deep knowledge that each has achieved in their own specialty. They learn enough to complement the other’s knowledge, enough to solve the research problem at hand.

One of the greatest pleasures as a scholar is to develop a long-term collaboration with another scholar who comes from a different tradition. Collaborators most often become friends, so there is a socio-emotional benefit. Such collaborators supply inputs to the research that the other can never match, so they magnify the productivity of a scholar. Such collaborators often make research more fun, so the natural addiction of scholars for knowledge acquisition is supplemented by greater joy. What could be better?

The American Studies Program at 50 Years Old

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The American Studies Program is an interdisciplinary major within the College of Arts and Sciences. By constructing a sustained research agenda culminating in a senior thesis, students acquire the abilities to organize logical arguments guiding original inquiry and to work collaboratively in a set of out-of-class activities coordinated with the curriculum.

Last weekend, the program celebrated its 50th anniversary with a gathering of current and former students and faculty. Over 250 former students attended the event, some who graduated in the early 1970’s. This, in my experience, is an extraordinary assembly for any major.

The gathering prompted deeper thoughts about higher education:

First, what are universities about? What is their role in the society? What is their unique contribution?

They build the leaders of the next generations of the collective population. In a liberal arts tradition, they do so by transmitting knowledge sufficiently broad that the recipients can be wise in all the life situations they will encounter. At the same time, they foster opportunities to go deep into a knowledge domain, experiencing the thrill of being at its edge.

When alumni return, it is rare that they praise a faculty member through reciting memories about the content of a course. Instead, they remember conversations about navigating conceptual frameworks, learning how to identify good questions, and connections among disparate facts that affected their life perspective. In short, the lasting lessons appear to be ways of thinking and doing. We have terms for this: critical thinking, rhetorical competencies, design-based thinking, entrepreneurial thinking, cross-functional group collaboration, reflection and discernment, evaluative judgment, self-learning, systems thinking.

Second, how is the knowledge in the day-to-day world organized? Are there organizations that have the same name as university departments — The History Firm; The Physics Company; Philosophy, Incorporated; Sociology Associates?

Few, if any. Day-to-day life does not package its issues into disciplinary bundles, but disciplines are crucial to navigating the world. Making connections among knowledge domains is key.

Third, because of the organization of knowledge in the world, the challenge of effective undergraduate experience is to provide depth of intellectual development and a breadth of cognitive approaches to launch the student as a leader of their generation, whatever sets of careers they will pursue. Most of the current undergraduates will live beyond 100 years old; they will have four to five distinct careers; our job is to prepare them to retool their knowledge base when they’re 75 because their current career has been disrupted. This will require self-teaching — observation, analysis, interpretation, reflection, evaluation, inference, explanation, problem solving, and decision making. All of this requires agile wisdom under uncertainty.

Studies of learning impact are crystal clear on two attributes of a successful undergraduate experience — the existence of a strong mentoring relationship with a faculty member and the experience of an extended, year-long academic project. Each of these breed experiences connected to the learning goals above.

In the American Studies Program, Georgetown has a program intentionally designed with this in mind.

Happy Birthday, American Studies!

Modeling Civil Discourse Between Two People of Opposing Views

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I’ve written in the past about the apparent need at this moment to relearn lessons of how to productively have a dialogue with someone of opposing views. In recent chats with students and faculty, there seems to be a growing consensus that role models of civil discourse between two people of conflicting beliefs are more and more difficult to find.

Indeed, students entering Georgetown increasingly are likely to have rarely witnessed such dialogue. They themselves have not developed the skills necessary to participate in such a dialogue. Conversely, they have read and maybe even participated in the harsh verbal interaction that exists on social media sites and in the comment fields of electronic media. They can witness daily the shouting matches embedded in the overlapping speech on news shows. Indeed, such events may discourage any attempts for them to enter into discussion with someone of opposing views (unless they merely want to mirror the shouting matches they seen).

As with many universities, Georgetown hosts controversial speakers, but they rarely have interlocutors. They do expose themselves to Q&A, but these tend to be single-iteration interactions. Students also see debates, where each side attempts to score points against the other.

What is rarer is two well-informed persons having a dyadic discussion on a topic of disagreement between them. They listen to one another, as evidence by their paraphrasing what they hear from the other, to verify their own understanding. They ponder the other’s thoughts and probe them for clarification. They may even say from time to time, “I never thought of it that way.” But they’d also politely say, “I don’t think I see it the same way you do. Here’s how I see the issue.” Or “I think we agree on that point, but not on another point.”

The discussion would be filled with evidence for their beliefs. Feelings might be expressed but not as valid evidence for a position, but as a measure of depth of belief. The density of emotional communication is kept low.

In the ideal-type of a family dinner, there are such discussions of issues of the day. When those are guided by wise elders, the younger set learns about active listening to the other’s talk. They gradually learn that such dialogues are effective vehicles for a collective search for the truth.

The Jesuit notion of “presupposition” is relevant here. The concept is that we should assume the other actor is behaving with good will. We assume that the other, as we too, are actively seeking the truth. We assume that they are open to new information and are seeking to process and integrate new information into their existing set of knowledge.

One wonders whether we could invite to campus twosomes of speakers who do indeed disagree with one another on some issue of general interest. Could we encourage them to model the dialogue behavior we’re seeking, for the benefit of Georgetown students? What topics would attract students to observe the modeled behavior? What rules of audience behavior should be encouraged? How could we evaluate whether the events indeed served their purpose?

A New Way for the Private Sector to Support the Decennial Census

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I spent part of this morning with a great group of people. They form a worldwide team of engineers, social scientists, developers, and administrative staff at Facebook, devoted to countering misinformation on their platform about the 2020 Census.

The US decennial census is a national ceremony conducted each 10 years to fulfill the mandate of the founding fathers’ directive in Article 1, Section 2, of the US constitution. It is the only action of the country that asks all persons to participate, whether they are citizens or not, whether they are registered voters or not, whether they are active members of their community. This national census of all persons resident in the country is the basis of the reapportionment of the US House of Representatives, to recalibrate the allocation of 435 representatives to roughly equal numbers of persons across the country. The boundaries of congressional districts are redrawn each 10 years to reflect growth/decline of the population.

The original use of a population census for these purposes was an unprecedented act at the time of the writing of the constitution. It was a passion of James Madison to use such a scientific method for such a political power allocation.

While the outcome of the Census affects political power allocation to areas, the design, data collection, and analysis of Census data must be done in a totally objective, nonpartisan way. The value of the census rests on its credibility to the vast majority of the residents of the nation. That credibility is crucial to the acceptance of the population counts for uses in reapportionment of the US House of Representatives and later to help form congressional districts inside the states. The ubiquitous credibility is ruined if the Census is viewed as affected in any way by partisan viewpoints.

Of course, one of the problems in understanding the arguments above is that the Census occurs only once in a decade. For the vast majority of persons, completing the census questionnaire is not vividly memorable. The connection between the personal activity in answering the questions and the myriad number of uses of the data is not visible to most persons in the country.

The team at Facebook is treating the 2020 US Census as an event equally important as the 2020 US national election. The team is designing global efforts to identify attempts to damage the data collection efforts of the Census through the use of the Facebook platform.

They were interested in what efforts existed in 2010 that threatened that Census. We talked about political figures who urged people to resist the Census as an unwarranted intrusion in the private lives. We discussed concerns of new immigrant groups that did not trust the Census Bureau to implement their governing law that specifies fines and imprisonment for breach of confidentiality of data. We talked about the physical attacks on Census enumerators in various parts of the country that oppose Federal government activity. We discussed likely types of misinformation that might be spread to harm the Census for various subpopulations.

In prior decades, private sector firms helped encourage their customers to complete their Census questionnaires. They sponsored advertising in stores and in news media; they supported community groups organizing to encourage census participation.

We now live in a world of global social media, deliberate dissemination of false information, deep fakes, and other attempts at social influence over behavior of social media subscribers. In this world, we must acknowledge that the old means of support for the Census remains necessary, but is by itself insufficient. The country needs vigilance about misinformation affecting the 2020 Census. It was heartwarming to meet with a group of people devoting their next year (and more) to promoting a successful, nonpartisan, decennial census, one that the founding fathers imagined in 1787.

Total Focus within All-Encompassing Institutions

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A recent trip to the West Coast reminded me of cultural differences within the country. The all-encompassing nature of some private sector information firms there is quite distinct from that of older east coast companies. On-site free eating areas, dry cleaners, game rooms, rest areas — encourage employees to send more time at work. They do. Transportation to and from city centers in company buses and vans assure that worked can continue a focus on work during their transportation.

Further, the service industries that have arisen permit employees to minimize their time in interaction with others. A popular ongoing service is home delivery of gasoline for automobiles that fill tanks at night so that time spent on that activity is eliminated from one’s life. On the street, a first – a robotic coffee kiosk with diverse offerings of size, type of coffee, and drink type. No human needed. Food delivery is ubiquitous. Never having to leave work or one’s house is completely possible.

Such a life maximizes focus on one’s work, a wonderful freedom if one’s work is deeply satisfying.

Upon reflection, such hours are not unlike many of those spent by many professionals. Even without employers’ support of all one’s life’s needs in a self-sufficient cocoon, many professionals seem consumed by their devotion to work. The ubiquitous mobile phone permits ongoing work each weekend, indeed, all hours of the night every night.

These are comments about those in the higher percentiles of income and wealth. But similar comments could be offered about those in the lower percentiles. Lives spent juggling multiple jobs to make ends meet produce a similar all-encompassing focus. In these there may be less drive to succeed in a career and more commitment to maximize income to pay the bills.

I’ve written earlier about the loss of confidence in institutions and evidence of decline in civic participation. Details of the structure of modern work lives and the lack of community integration seems complementary. Many of today’s populace seem to have no time to contribute to their community, to support civic institutions, or to integrate into the life of their neighborhoods.

Of course, universities are not at all immune to these phenomena. Faculty devote total energy to research and teaching, and whenever possible, to their professional associations. The institutions are enveloping of the full person’s energy. Email and texts with students and colleagues eat up hours of each day. Keeping up with one’s field fills every free moment.

One fear of this phenomenon is that these all-enveloping professions and their associated institutions become detached from the societies in which they are embedded. As a possible result, attitudes toward both tech firms and universities seem to be more negative over the past few years. Questions arise about whether they are serving their own interests alone or serving the larger society.

At this moment in time, universities whose mission include direct service to the outside world become important in this context. Demonstrating that those whose energies are devoted to expanding knowledge are also actively trying to serve others may now be more important than ever. While universities and the faculty that build them must indeed devote total energy to their research and teaching, organizing their teaching and research about how to build a better world has never been more important.


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Disciplines vary greatly in how they conduct their scholarship and research.

In some of the humanities, the scholar has great freedom in creating new approaches to new topics. Creativity and novelty are highly valued. The evaluation of the work is heavily weighted toward the production of new ways of interpreting long-lasting questions and phenomena.

Other fields ground their research on a large set of prior studies. They justify the questions they pursue by noting the past findings are flawed, incomplete, or inadequate in some other way. That logic justifies asking the new research question. Solving puzzles remaining in the paradigm is the day-to-day goal.

While the style of scholarship may be quite variable across fields, in many ways the fields, as they evolve, share a feature – as the field evolves, the complexity of work increases. For fields that do not possess strong unifying paradigms, the challenge of creating a novel approach to a long-studied area is increasing complex. Imitative work is less highly valued. The new is applauded when it survives scrutiny on its impact to understanding of the issues. Discovering what is new is increasingly difficult.

Fields that depend on well-developed theory to identify research questions yet unanswered suffer from their own increasing complexity. Many of these fields have had decades or centuries of increasing depth of understanding of the key phenomena in the field. The basic questions have been answered; the second order issues have been largely settled. The remaining questions involve combinations of issues in a system of interacting elements. The complexity of cutting edge research grows dramatically.

These disciplinary differences manifest themselves in new ways when fields work together to address real problems. When fields that have very different research styles come together, they face challenges. Some of these arise from normal needs to share concepts and nomenclature. These are difficult enough for collaborations.

Added to these difficulties, however, can be starkly different ways of approaching an agreed-upon shared problem. Interdisciplinary research is exposing these. They include the contrast between qualitative methods and quantitative methods. They involve the role of emotion in motivating action, versus purely rational logic. They involve lab work and experimentation versus field work and observational studies. They involve tendencies to value deduction versus induction or vice versa. They involve the struggle of one adept at working alone to work in teams where one might not be directing the whole project.

In short, as each field evolves, its knowledge becomes more elaborated and typically more complex. As then the fields combine to solve a problem that needs multiple fields, the complexity of combining both knowledge and research methods increases.

As world problems demand multi-field input for their solutions, learning how to navigate these differences is critical to our success.

Reproducibility and Replicability

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One of the key desirable attributes of a scientific research project is that its findings be credible. Much credibility is attained if the results of the project can be repeated by an objective other researcher.

Over the recent years, there have been a variety of incidents in research that found results of one research project not repeated by another. Congress, in a concern about whether the phenomenon might be ubiquitous, asked that a National Academy of Sciences panel address the current state of science on this issue.

A lengthy but readable panel report  in response to the congressional requests, released in May, 2019, was recently supplemented by a symposium at the academies.

Across different fields, there are myriad definitions of “reproducibility” and “replicability.” The panel chose to define “reproducibility” as obtaining the same results as a completed study, using the same data and the same analytic routines (based on the same code used by the original study). In this sense, the phrase “computational reproducibility” is appropriate. The panel defined “replicability” as reaching the same conclusion as that of the original study from a later project asking the same research question, whether or not it used exactly the same methods.

Of cours, there are extreme behaviors that justifiably threaten reproducibility and replicability. Breaches of scientific integrity (e.g., falsification of data) produce appropriate lack of both reproducibility and replicability, as well they should. Further, these are deeply detrimental to the image of science and public trust in research.

A larger and more complicated set of issues involve how to a) facilitate attempts to increase reproducibility and replicability, and b) how to determine whether they have occurred when a second study is conducted.

For many domains of science, facilitating attempts at reproducibility and replicability requires a level of unusual detail of documentation on study methods, data processing, and analytic methods of a study. For reproducibility, data must be stored and documented in a fashion that others can easily access and use them. The code used to process and analyze the data must be stored and documented in a fashion that others can use it. What norms can be developed to make such documentation a normal part of research? What tools might be developed to reduce the marginal difficulty of such documentation? Who is to provide a permanent home for such material (there is no guarantee GitHub will exist 20 years from now)? Will journals be the source of such permanence? Will cooperatives like Open Science provide such a service? Will funders like the NIH and NSF provide such repositories?

How do you determine whether reproducibility and replicability has been attained once attempted? The statisticians in the symposium reminded everyone that any process based on variable inputs is subject to uncertainty of outcomes. If a second researcher attempts to replicate a study using exactly the same methods on a different set of measurement units, different results could be obtained purely from sampling variability. Hence, replicability needs to acknowledge both the uncertainty inherent in the first study and in the replication. Differences within the tolerance of sampling error are to be expected, even if precisely the same methods were used and nothing else has changed. Thus, failure to replicate needs to acknowledge the uncertainty involved in all studies, only some of which can be measured.

Finally, there was large scale questioning of whether the reward systems of funding agencies and disciplines could improve their support for attempting to reproduce or replication. Currently, young scholars are judged on the novelty of their products. Spending time attempting to replicate the findings of others is generally not as highly valued. How should professional associations support reward systems for attempts to replicate prior studies’ results?

Of course, all of these questions lead to a more general one – if the human and financial resources for research are finite, what is the optimal allocation of those resources to original research versus to reproduction and replication of prior research?

Necessary Ingredients for Global Collaborations

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Many discussions with faculty and other thought leaders make the case that solving the world’s problems cannot be accomplished by any one sector of societies across the world. It is common in universities for individual faculty to have a rich set of ties with allied scholars in other countries.

The United States’ eco-system of colleges and universities over the past 50 years has been quite effective in nurturing such ties. Some of this comes from the continued support of liberal education in US universities, nurturing research in the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. This eco-systme spawned a set of values committed to unfettered inquiry by faculty. The eco-system became a magnet for the best young minds throughout the world. They thus received their critical intellectual formation at US universities. Many stayed, pursuing their own careers in the US, and thereby greatly enriched the eco-system. Others returned to their home countries, kept their ties with their US universities and became collaborators and benefactors of the US faculty. They often became leaders of the academic sectors in their home countries and pushed for increasing support for higher education and its research mission.

At this point, in some of the sciences, large international teams are working together in facilities throughout the world, tackling some of the fundamental questions about how the world is organized and the human-environment interaction. In the humanities, workshops and small international meetings of scholars working in the same field are taking place routinely. Academia is globally connected. It was assisted by governments in the developed world supporting attendance at international conferences by scholars from poorer societies. The US eco-system is a key player in those global collaborations.

These collaborations stitch together nation-states in ways that can counteract inter-state political tensions. For example, ongoing scientific meetings of nuclear physicists in the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War were instrumental in building acceptance of arms-control treaties. Scientific interactions can be a useful catalyst for diplomacy.

As recent events remind us, however, there is fragility in the necessary attributes for global collaboration. First, collaborations do require some freedom of inquiry in multiple countries. In some countries of the world, academics’ freedom to pursue their research is being curtailed. Second, nation-state conflicts have restricted the visits of collaborators to each other’s sites because of visa restrictions. Third, related to this, are growing concerns that some research has national security or commercial value and thus must be overseen by agencies concerns with nation state protection. Fourth, budget restrictions on US universities and agencies have constrained funding support for international work. Fifth, the vast inequality that accompanied the globalization of commerce has led to strong nationalistic movements in several countries, antithetical to global collaboration. In some countries, academic pursuits have themselves been politicized. Sixth, many countries are making large investments in the higher education and research infrastructure. This by itself is wonderful for the larger world. It is, however, forcing a desirable, but altered set of guidelines calling for more equal partnerships across countries. This is producing a culture change in the governance of academic collaboration.

In short, there is no guarantee that the societal conditions for global collaborations will continue. We all need to work to preserve them to continue the intellectual productivity gains from such collaborations.

How Faculty Work Together

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There are few organizations that provide such freedom of activity as universities, permitting faculty great autonomy in choosing their focus of research and scholarship. While the teaching activities are specified by the curriculum and the service obligations by unit, school, and university structures, individual faculty members can pursue their interests solely constrained by the peer review processes of their field.

It is fascinating to be part of a community where curiosity and a passion to pursue unanswered questions are driving forces. All fields continually challenge themselves in endless attempts to expand and deepen their insights. At the individual faculty level, many times these attributes prompt one to explore area outside of their PhD training (indeed, this seems to be a growing theme in the Provost Podcast series, “Faculty in Research”).  While sometimes venturing into a new domain can be accomplished by oneself, when exploring whole new knowledge terrains, the investment is daunting. In such circumstances, collaboration with those outside one’s field is the only efficient way to proceed.

Hence, it’s interesting to explore what attributes of an academic environment appear to be helpful in fostering collaboration. I’ve posted earlier about the galvanizing effect of collaboration that occurs when scholars from different fields find one another attempting to solve the same problem. In this case, the shared focus on the problem diminishes the differences between them.

In contrast, when one scholar is attempting only to use another’s knowledge, without the two sharing a passion to solve the same problem, true collaboration is impeded. In those cases, one potential collaborator can easily feel they are being used solely to advance the personal agenda of the other. This occurs often when one scholar merely wants to use knowledge of specific tools developed in the other’s field. So, mutual respect is key to collaboration. Academic environments that have both intellectual and physical spaces that support multiple fields working on the same problem helps overcome these issues.

Even when two collaborators find themselves on equal footing in terms of a focus on unanswered questions, problems abound in building collaborations across fields. Fields create technical languages to make within-field communication efficient. This within-field efficiency diminishes between-field understanding. Great patience and time are often required to create effective transmission of ideas between fields. The larger the sharing of language (either mathematical, graphical, or verbal) between the fields, the faster the collaboration can become effective. Unfortunately, many collaborations die before this point of maturation. Hence, academic environments supporting collaboration must simultaneously support long-term relationships. (In this regard, it is heartwarming to see more and more external research funding recognizing the need for collaboration in multi-year efforts.)

When research collaboration can be integrated within the educational activity, some of the burden of conceptual translation can be eased. This is most obvious when scholars from different fields co-teach a course. Co-teaching permits the two to converse at the level needed for student understanding. It forces clarification of differences between two approaches; it unites the two in serving student understanding and, as a consequence, enriches their own understanding of the other field.

Another environmental catalyst for faculty members to collaborate is the sharing of mentorship of a research assistant. Often the student becomes an intellectual hybrid of the two, blending and synthesizing the two fields. Their joint devotion to the student, and the student’s lessons to the faculty about the synthesis of fields, make the collaboration effective and pleasurable.

Finally, nothing prompts and secures collaboration than shared responsibilities to successfully complete a project. Externally funded time-delimited grants and contracts are catalysts to real interdisciplinary practice. Hence, building an academic environment that nurtures team-application to grant and contract opportunities is important.

As Georgetown faculty continually reach to increase their impact on solving important world problems, we need to build an environment that makes collaboration across fields easier.

First-Year Research Seminars

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As I mentioned in a post awhile back, the most recent intellectual life report from the faculty of the main campus recommended that all first-year students have the opportunity to experience an intensive seminar. The recommendation was “We recommend the creation and support of first year seminar courses for all undergraduates in all schools, designed to initiate immersion into research culture first by teaching the fundamental skills of research as appropriate for knowledge creation or for solving practical problems.”

The rationale for this recommendation involved the following logic:

“One way to increase student engagement with original research would be through the learning of research skills over the course of an undergraduate career beginning in a first year seminar. Faculty anecdotally report that students enter senior seminars or capstone courses without the skills to undertake original research or the knowledge of how a research paper is constructed. This omission could be remedied by careful vertical curricular planning. Skills could be divided over first- and second-year seminars before students entered research oriented courses, senior seminars, and capstone courses in their junior and senior years. In particular students should be weaned away from using Google as a search engine for a research paper and instead introduced to the proper way to use databases and how to choose the ones most appropriate for their topic. They should also be taught how to review current literature to date so as to form a meaningful research question or topic.”

Traditional lecture courses, supplemented with outside readings, can be effective in communicating content to students. Such pedagogical strategies are rarely successful, however, in communicating the role of research in knowledge creation.

The skills required for good research in most fields are transferable to other environments over the life course. The transferable skills include critical reading skills. Instead of merely taking notes on the key content in a course’s readings, students can learn how to evaluate and question the reading. Critical reading of others’ work is a key ingredient of all scholarship. Instead of just exercising the mental muscle of absorbing new facts, they exercise the opposing muscle, conceiving of new ways of creating, new questions not yet answered, and new ways of solving a problem. Instead of reading just the research and scholarship that has passed critical peer reviews, they try to create their own new findings or creations. By doing research, they quickly encounter the common mistakes of the endeavor – the low rate of complete success, the need to morph approaches in mid-stream, the iterative nature of research progress.

The Intellectual Life Report reminded us how important these sets of skills are to the ability to learn new material. The effort proposed is an attempt to provide a deeper experience to those exiting high school into the life of the mind so important in intellectual development. Further, it reminded us how preparing a student for a life of constant learning is one of Georgetown’s important missions.

The deans received this recommendation with great interest. Over the summer the provost office prepared some analysis of the distribution of class sizes across levels of courses and schools. The deans worked to review the current status of their school’s first year offerings.

I am happy to report to all that each dean believed that fulfilling the recommendation was both important for academic excellence and achievable over a relatively short period of time.

There remains much work to do, however, to ensure that each first-year student has a meaningful research-relevant seminar experience. This work, however, will be great fun.


Listen to the Provost Podcast, “Faculty in Research,” at

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