Science, Learning, and the Idea of PAIGI

This evening, I attended a panel discussion titled “What Does A Trump Administration Mean For Science?” and I can safely say that it could have benefited from a much larger room. I was lucky enough to get a seat, but there were people standing on the side of the room and sitting on the floor. People really wanted answers, regardless of it being a Friday evening when other things are going on.

From the hour-plus-long event, there were some key points that stood out to me:

  1. Students should be more involved in the process of scientific funding, research, and policy writing.
  2. Science should be spread out and shared in an accessible way to all people, not just STEM folks.
  3. Science literacy is more important now than it has been in years.

It felt a little weird sitting in that room, not because of what was being said but because as someone with a humanities background and whose grad major is library science – not really a STEM proper major – I did not belong as a scientist, as one of the students the speakers were encouraging to go out and change the world with experiments and research and reports.

And then I saw my right side neighbor was an English professor, and I felt better. This need to understand how the current administration will impact science-based policy and research extends across all disciplines. I’m sure we weren’t the only non-STEM folks in the crowd, although I’m also sure we were heavily outweighed by those who were.

Then again, I did belong. I am a human being, a citizen of the United States, and a college student who is interested in learning. As a library and information science major, I am a scientist of a different breed; my colleagues do research, perform studies, writing papers, request grants, and do field work.

I really do have an interest in learning more about science. Right now, I’ve been reading a lot of Richard Feynman, which means my interests are currently in the field of physics. And as someone who barely passed college algebra, let me tell you, physics is a hard field to be a casual scholar of, as I am trying to be!

I’ve had to get Physics 100-level textbooks from the campus engineering library just to scratch the surface of the concepts I read in Feynman’s “QED”. But it’s been worth it. It’s frustrating but fascinating, and it’s what I turn to when I’m done with my actual studies for the day.

So, here is my idea: from time to time, I’ll update the blog with something I am calling PAIGI: Physics As I Get It. It’ll be some quirk or aspect or story I stumble across in my studies that I like enough to blog about. I’m doing this because I want my studies to be transparent and open to everyone. I want my readers to see what kind of research I do outside of class.

I also want readers to see what it’s like to study something for the hell of it. My professional career goals will not necessarily benefit from knowing how a quark works, or how light bounces off certain surfaces, but it’s going to be fun to find out the answers, and thus the point: that learning something difficult can also be fun.

That’s the plan. PAIGI as a semi-regular feature. We’ll learn physics together. I’ll explain more about PAIGI in the first proper post of the series, maybe in the next week or so. For now, let’s do the good work and make America think scientifically again.


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