Science itself is not the only thing rapidly evolving. So is humankind. Every day we’re adapting to new realities, expanding our minds, and deepening our understanding of the world. The next generation of scientists is at the forefront of this collective evolution, and the essential qualities they’re developing now will shape our future. We asked educators and scientists from within our Labster community to share the qualities they’re nurturing in their STEM students to create tomorrow's change-makers. Here are 4 essential qualities they say will define the future scientist:
Representation has a significant influence on us all—” if you see it, you can be it”—and as more women and minorities enter STEM fields, representation is expanding. Younger generations are likely to be empowered to advocate for continued diversity, equity, and inclusion more than any other generation that’s come before. That’s only half the battle, according to Dr. Manuela Tripepi, an assistant professor of biology at Thomas Jefferson University. She says to encourage and support minority students it’s important to talk about DEI in the classroom honestly and often.
Tripepi, an Italian immigrant, is proud to be a science educator representing women and the LGBTQ community. “I tell my students my story in our first session,” she says. “I tell them if I can do it, you can do it.” Her goal is to help students feel comfortable enough to ask for help when they need it so she can address any of the roadblocks to pursuing a STEM career. By welcoming a diverse group of students to her research group, she says she can create connections with them and provide a “safe space” for communication, which is important for strengthening their confidence and will serve them well as future advocates for DEI in STEM.
Scientists are now on the world stage. They’re tasked with communicating vital information to our government officials and thrust into the spotlight across news outlets and social media. What science professionals say and how they present information is key to preventing misinformation from going mainstream. Future STEM professionals must be able to communicate well and disseminate complex information in easy-to-understand ways.
Dr. Donald Wlodkowic is an associate professor of cell biology and toxicology at RMIT Australia. Unlike some scientists who are drawn to spreadsheets and numbers, Wlodkowic has always been drawn to the visual representation of concepts such as charts, images, and animation. He tells his students, from a future employer’s perspective, that the ability to present information visually will be a core competency regardless of their discipline.
“This could take many forms, like specialized courses where the students learn to make slides and create figures,” he says. “If you can use a great chart or video, that’s always a plus. You will very often be talking to someone who has no idea what you do, you will lose your audience speaking about complex things. Be able to paint a picture and tell a story.”
Resiliency is another quality our scientists and educators place at the top of the list when it comes to future scientists. The nature of science, says Dr. Wlodkowic, is that you will fail repeatedly before you succeed. It’s part of the learning process at every level, from the student level to the professional level, he says.
“Students need to develop a psychological defense against failure. Don’t be afraid of it, embrace it. If you don’t fail, you don’t learn. This is most important.”
At Lake Travis High School in Austin, Texas, Karolyn George teaches a cutting-edge program called “Project Lead the Way,” in which students in grades 9-12 tackle real-world science challenges and prepare for careers in medicine and medical innovation. Resilience is an important focus in the program. George often reminds her students of the Benjamin Franklin quote: “I didn't fail the test, I just found 100 ways to do it wrong.”
“We don’t care about how many times they get it wrong, we care about the time they get it right,” she says. “I tell them, ‘You just have to keep going.’” Her goal is to maximize effort and minimize failure. “When they present a problem and they may not be perfectly right, I tell them the things they got right and that they just need to tweak it.”
The rise of virtual conferencing tools and social media have given us the technology to collaborate with colleagues across the globe without ever needing to pack a carry-on bag. This ability to share information in real-time opens up new opportunities for the sciences to solve problems together and at a more rapid pace.
Mark Davidson teaches AP biology and physics at Lee Central High School in South Carolina. He admits that it took him some time to adjust to virtual teaching over Zoom. Even some of his students shied away from using their video cameras. But two years later, he and the students have settled in nicely to using sharing technology, and now he is a big proponent of students optimizing those skills to become better collaborators.
“Now, you can share research instantaneously with other scientists. So you need to be able to communicate an idea to anyone anywhere very quickly,” he says. In that way, the pandemic has served to fast-track these skills in students and improved their collaboration skills.
At Lake Travis High School, collaboration is a big part of their Human Body Systems curriculum. Teacher Karolyn George assigns students a different part of the body to consider when making a diagnosis for an ill patient, for example. One student might be focused on the heart, and the other on the kidneys; but the two must work together and discuss how the individual organs are working within the whole system to provide a holistic perspective.
In our new world, science can no longer be done well in silos. It’s achieved together through collaboration, George says.
Dr. Wlodkowic agrees.
“Problems can’t be solved by one discipline,” he says. “It’s important to develop a new attitude among scientists and that they will be more multidisciplinary and collaborative. This is how people learn different skills and learn to work with people from different departments–no longer working in isolation.”
Labster can help develop essential qualities of the future scientist with our virtual lab simulations and science resources. If you’re interested in exploring Labster, sign up for a 30-day trial and experience the future of STEM education.