JAM redux: a summary

i-f875c0b07d9b3cb6229668554781b35a-alice.jpgOkay, so I have recovered from my visit to Washington, and my first JAM conference. Here are some highlights that are more edited than my lame live-blogging post is. ;-)

I didn't realize how big JAM is -- there were ~1200 people attending, and ADVANCE was only a very very small part. There were people from AGEP, TCUP, GSE, CREST, RDE, HBCU-UP, and LSAMP.

[Acronym dejargoner:
AGEP= Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate
HBCU=Historically Black Colleges and Universities Undergraduate Program
TCUP=Tribal Colleges and Universities Program
LSAMP= Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation
RDE= Research in Disabilities Education
CREST= Centers of Research Excellence in Science and Technology
GSE=Research on Gender in Science and Engineering]

The way JAM was organized was interesting: we had some joint sessions for "professional development" and "collaboration and networking", and then we had program-only sessions (although GSE seemed to collaborate with ADVANCE pretty regularly).

I missed one or two sessions because the ADVANCE-Purdue team was simultaneously taking advantage of the time together to make some progress on our site-visit response and annual report writing (due July 1! Augh!).

However, I did attend (as you have seen):

  • Wanda Ward's keynote (inadequately blogged here)
  • Campbell-Kibler Associates - with Pat Campbell (of fairerscience.org!), Susan Metz, and Jennifer Weisman on getting your research message out to the press. More on what I took away here.
  • J. Craig Venter's keynote - the dude does awesome science. He is the guy who sequenced the first genome, and has carried on doing so to answer what he calls "simple" questions. He and/or his research team float around the globe on the Sorcerer 2 taking samples of the ocean at various depths, then they filter the samples, and sequence the different filtered layers. Some sound-bites -- he's "writing software that can build its own hardware" - they can put together gene sequences that they then insert into organisms that then change their own structure to accomodate the new sequences. Another -- "don't ever talk yourself out of doing the experiment" - a problem I currently have now also. Another -- his ocean sampling is showing much much more genetic diversity than was expected -- he contrasts this diversity with the theory of "survival of the fittest" where maybe diversity is a better idea to represent. He also talked about the Jatropha Genome Project, where Jatropha is a plant whose oil you can directly use as diesel, or which you can process into jet fuel (tried out on an Air New Zealand flight already).Way cool science. Or at least, so says the lowly engineer
  • Eric Jolly's keynote the next day, which was equally if not more cool. Eric Jolly is the president of the Minnesota Science Museum, and his speaking was as galvanizing to me as when I heard Brenda Laurel speak at POD. He shared a definition of tokenism, which is where people have "input, not impact." He talked about the problems with an aspiration gap, not an achievement gap, where people think it is okay to "be bad at math" or "be rubbish at science." He talked of how he believes that science is essential for civic engagement, that it is an essential literacy for living in this world. He also talked about how his "remote little museum in the backwater of Minnesota" impacts public policy by testifying in Congress, in holding summits on science literacy, on engaging legislative members in different ways. It was awesome, and not like a hotdog.

    Eddie Izzard on the original definition of awesome

  • I went to Nakeina Douglas's talk on how to write annual reports - very useful (tidbits here).
  • Mia Ong (currently of TERC running the "Inside the Double Bind" project on the intersection of race and gender in STEM education - I've been a fan for a while, and was glad to finally meet her!) talked about different empirical ways of doing research in educational settings, including ways to overcome denials of institutional data sets (No! You may not have this data! Even though we are at a public institution, and the data are a matter of public record! No!), and she had us do little interviews with our neighbors to think about what it feels like to be interviewed. A big recommendation in doing interviews -- ask good questions! You have limited time with your participant, stories are what you want. Actively listen, give neutral responses but empathize when needed.
  • Laurel Smith-Doerr, a program officer in SBE (Social, Behavioral, Economic) spoke about the SBE program (which includes the cultural anthropology, physical anthropology, archaeology, linguistics, social psychology, political science, economics, and sociology). She also talked about WAY COOL RESEARCH such as about Ron Eglash at RPI studying ethnomathematics, which she described as "how math and culture intersect" -- I SO have to look this stuff up. SBE sounds like a place to try to get the research that I find most interesting funded...I'll try to write a post on this sometime soon. She also talked about the need for a "science of broadening participation" which would be "interdisciplinary, informed by and building social and behavior science theories" and would be "methodologically rigorous". She ended with an encouragement to send her 1-page summaries of ideas to see if she thinks they're fundable through SBE.
  • Lisa Frehill of CPST gave a talk on the origins of the NSF indicator data sets that they request from ADVANCE institutions, and while it was really interesting from the point of view of those of us who need to compile such reports, it is probably less good blog fodder. However, if you are interested, you can download the toolkit that ADVANCE uses to argue for institutional change via data (pdf) , or the other toolkit that they use to help guide program evaluation (pdf). Both are useful. Lisa also talked about some other projects she's doing, including one focused on women of color, of particular interest of our ADVANCE group.

I think that sums up my experience at JAM. Overlooking, of course, the good food, the lovely veranda at the Omni Shoreham hotel, and the frantic annual report writing my team was doing in the hallway. Hope you find something useful in here; for my part, it was nice being around people I recognized and work I found intellectually interesting and useful. An all around decent conference, even if it did end rather abruptly.


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