Society for Natural Sciences Newsletter December 2021
The newsletter is also available on the Society web site https://www.socnatsci.org/newsletters/society-for-natural-sciences-newsletter-december-2021/
Welcome to this Society for Natural Sciences (SNS) Newsletter
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all our members from the Society for Natural Sciences
This newsletter highlights some of the activities of the Society during the year. It has been a busy time for our Committee members coping with the impact of Covid on their day jobs. Contrary to some of the impressions in the press that lecturers have gone off-line as their lectures have gone online, our members have been working hard to continue to provide the best possible education and to deal with the many issues that have arisen. While it is not possible to fully compensate for the loss of social interaction that forms an essential part of the student experience, the move to online, and particularly blended delivery, has in many cases improved the educational value of degree programmes. The uncertainty about the future that still hangs over us is a continuing source of stress for staff and students. In these circumstances networking can be of some benefit. This is something the Society aims to provide.
In other sections of this newsletter you will find news of members, information about our online Outreach activities and academic seminars and ways in which you can contribute to the Society.
Do let us have your news and opinions.
Derek Raine (CEO)
Glen Hurst and Sarah Gretton awarded National Teaching Fellowships
Glenn Hurst from the University of York and Sarah Gretton from the University of Leicester are the latest members to have been awarded prestigious national teaching fellowships (NTFs). These fellowships are awarded annually by Advance HE for distinguished contributions to teaching and learning in higher education. Started in 2000 they are intended to raise the profile of teaching in higher education. There are about 50 recipients each year and there are also a number of awards to teams (Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence) for collaborative work.)
Dr Glenn Hurst is an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Green Chemistry Centre of Excellence at the University of York. He uses holistic systems thinking approaches to equip the scientists, engineers and policymakers of tomorrow with the knowledge and skills to address complex and interdisciplinary global problems.
Dr Sarah Gretton is Director of the Natural Sciences program and institutional lead for Education of Sustainable Development (ESD) at the University of Leicester. Sarah has re-designed and redeveloped interdisciplinary science teaching resulting in improved student experience and outcomes. Her leadership of ESD has resulted in the University achieving a top 10 UK ranking. Sarah is also a board member of the SNS.
Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference 2022:
Making Connections, Innovating and Sharing Pedagogy
29-30 June 2022 at University College London, UK
Call for papers now open!
The Seventh Horizons in STEM Higher Education Conference Committee invites abstract submissions for oral presentations, workshops and interactive posters that address general pedagogic themes within STEM higher education.
The conference will be hosted by University College London on the 29th and 30th June 2022 and will run as a hybrid event. Talks and workshops will be presented in person with an option for delegates to join remotely. Further details are available at ukstemconference.com
The abstract deadline is Friday 25th February 2022.
The Society for Natural Sciences are sponsors of the conference.
SNS Chair meets the new President of the Science Council
In June Chair Nicky King met with the new President of the Science Council Professor Carole Mundell alongside the leaders of four other bodies to discuss the issues facing professional bodies and priorities for the coming years. The conversation particularly focussed how we can increase the public understanding of the work of scientists, the professionalism of scientists and increase trust in science. The pandemic has shone a light upon the nature scientific debate and the importance of interdisciplinary approaches to the challenges facing the globe. We talked about the role of the Science Council and PRSBs in raising the profile of professionalism in science and trust in our members. We also talked about how scientists from diverse disciplines need to learn to trust and understand each other in order to work together and communicate effectively with the public, the work of you as interdisciplinary scientists and the work of the Society is so important in this regard. These conversations continued in July at the Science Council AGM and we were invited to feed into the development of the Science Council strategy for 2025. The Science Council wants to harness the expertise of our members and therefore membership of the Science Council gives Society for Natural Sciences members a voice around the table in these discussions and raises the profile of interdisciplinary science and your work.
Interdisciplinary Science Education in the Media
In October Physics Today ran an article on undergraduate Interdisciplinary Science programmes. While focussed on the expansion of such programmes in Canada it also featured Natural Sciences at the University of Leicester as the first of this type of programme in the UK. The full article is behind a paywall, but you can get a flavour of it here
The programme of accreditation of Natural Sciences degrees is now well underway with four of the 12 applicants reviewed to date. The aim is to complete the process in the first half of 2022 so that all accredited degrees can be announced at the same time.
Society for Natural Sciences Submission to the Times Education Commission
Times Newspapers have set up a commission to explore improvements in education in the UK at all levels. Below is the Overview of the submission from the Society. The full submission can be found on the Society web site.
We argue for a greater role for interdisciplinarity in science curricula in higher education. We look first at the demand side. In view of the increasing importance of interdisciplinarity in research , both academic and commercial, we argue that this should be reflected in undergraduate curricula which aim to be “research-led” through greater interdisciplinarity in content. We argue that the increasing trend towards interdisciplinarity in research, industry and commerce should not be an afterthought bolted on to a specialist undergraduate degree but should form part of the undergraduate experience in Science.
- A research-led science curriculum at undergraduate level implies an interdisciplinary curriculum.
We look next at the supply side. We argue that interdisciplinarity is not a route to dumbing down, but a pathway to greater engagement with science at all levels of education. We argue for the importance of attitudes, aptitudes and skills in addition to specific content in undergraduate education. We also link this to the pivot in ethos towards sustainability, an inherently interdisciplinary area.
- An interdisciplinary perspective will improve the flow of graduates into science teaching and will encourage more young people into science and broaden scientific understanding generally
Since both supply and demand are affected by education prior to university we look at the implications for teaching in schools.
- We propose an interdisciplinary curriculum as the basis for an English Baccalaureate
Next we look at international comparisons. The discipline structure of higher education in the UK has compelling advantages of control over the curriculum but also disadvantages of scope. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland students generally commit to a specialism on entry to university (Scotland is different) even before they have experience of the discipline at that level. (There are major differences between science subjects at school level and at university.)
- An interdisciplinary curriculum addresses the disadvantages of early narrow specialisation while retaining the advantages in efficiency of a structured degree programme
How content is taught (pedagogy) is as important as what is taught. The UK is a leader in research and implementation in primary and secondary education, but we are not alone in lacking data on how science is learnt in tertiary education. We discuss the need for targeted research.
- Interdisciplinarity supports problem- and project-oriented approaches to pedagogy and professional skills. More research is needed on effective pedagogies.
Finally, we make some proposals for moving towards a broader interdisciplinary evidence-based curriculum.
Meet the Committee
Ruth Sang-Jones has joined the Society as a trustee. After graduating from Leicester Natural Sciences she went on to a DPhil (PhD) in Material Science at the University of Oxford and is now a trainee patent attorney at an intellectual property firm in London.
Ruth’s research was in the synthesis of hybrid nanotubes (of C, B and N) which may be used in electronics thermal management materials. She says that her very rewarding research experiences in the 3rd and 4th undergraduate years encouraged her to continue to PhD level. She writes:
“My PhD supervisor was in the ‘do what you want’ party. I really had to be innovative and come up with my own ideas. The MSci course prepared me for this learning environment, because we were often given open-ended questions to solve. As my PhD was lab-based, I found the most exciting part of it was the result reveal, when I found out when my experiment had worked or not. There were real adrenaline rush moments and real lows, but these ups and downs are part of almost every PhD student’s journey.
I undertook a 10-week Internship at the NASA Ames Research Center for Nanotechnology helping to model a carbon nanotube gas sensor for the ISS. In my application form, I had many examples of my engagement with space-related science content in the degree programme including a small literature review on microbes in space for additional credit.
I also volunteer my time at a student-led platform called the Science Innovation Union (SIU) , where I’ve led the online editorial team for a little over 2 years. We publish content written by PhD students and post-docs on general interest science news and also interview experts on topics related to bridging the gap between science and industry. My job as editor-in-chief is to manage the publications coming through from multiple editorial leads in universities across the UK and Europe and to ensure each article meets the standards for our website. I think the Natural Science course definitely prepared me for this role as editor-in-chief by always reminding us to think of the identity of our audience”
With the pandemic restricting face-to-face contact, the Society has continued to present content online through the Channel Talent platform. This has enabled us to reach a wider audience with presentations on Material Science, Biophysics, Astrobiology and Nuclear Fusion. The talks cannot be recorded live for legal reasons, but recorded versions of some of the talks are available on the Society web site under the resources for applicants to university tab. There you will also find slides from all the talks, suggestions for follow-up study relating the content of the talks to A-level and information on applying to Natural Sciences degree programmes.
The image shows a section through the human brain. In his talk Dr Chris Brignell, Director of Natural Sciences and Associate Professor of Statistics in the School of Mathematical Sciences, Faculty of Science, at University of Nottingham, examines what each branch of science can contribute to our understanding of the brain.
Pedagogic Research Seminars
Approaches to Teaching in Higher Education are constantly developing and the Learned Societies and Professional Bodies such as SNS play a role in the dissemination of new ideas. The Society for Natural Sciences holds monthly online seminars on topics that recently have included project-based learning and serious games. In November we welcomes out first international speaker, Dr Sarah Symons form McMaster University in Canada who talked about “iSci” the novel interdisciplinary science programme at McMaster. Sarah is an Associate Professor in the School of Interdisciplinary Science at McMaster University, Ontario, Canada. She is the current Program Coordinator for the Honours Integrated Science Program and has been a member of the design and instruction team since the launch of the programme. Her research areas include both pedagogical research and history of science.
The Society has agreed to adopt the journal New Directions in the Teaching of Physical Sciences as a Society professional journal for pedagogic research and the scholarship of teaching and learning. The journal was established by the Higher Education Academy Physical Sciences Subject Centre and subsequently taken over by the Academy when the Centres were abolished. When financial concerns meant that the Academy could no longer maintain the journal it was taken on by volunteers and hosted at the University of Leicester as a service to the community. The assumption administration of the journal by the Society will it is hoped secure its long term future. The aim of the journal will continue to be to provide a stepping stone for discipline practitioners into the scholarship of teaching and learning.
In October the chair of the Society sent a letter to members outlining the benefits of membership and the contributions that members can make. The text of the letter is reproduced below. The Society is a purely voluntary organisation that depends on contributions from members. There is a lot more we could be doing to disseminate the benefits of Natural Sciences programmes to a wider audience of potential under graduates and employers, but we need more help to do this. The most important is that we build a substantial membership base, so do encourage colleagues and friends to join the Society. Beyond the potential benefits to others, participation in the activities of the Society can also help develop your career. Additional members for our subcommittees are welcome. A list of subcommittees can be found below and in more detail on the web site. If you would like to discuss joining us in some role please contact Derek Raine email@example.com or Nicky King firstname.lastname@example.org .
Subcommittees of the Society:
- External Relations,
One of the missions of the Society is to foster links between academia and industry and commerce to raise awareness of the value of undergraduate programmes in Natural Sciences. We wold like to establish a subcommittee to further links with industry and are actively looking for committee members. If you would like to join this committee please email email@example.com.
The Society is in the process of establishing an journal for the publication of undergraduate research arising for example from research projects undertaken as part of an undergraduate degree. As a result, we have available two internships to edit the journal. The work will involve checking that submissions meet the journal criteria and copy-editing the material where necessary to meet the journal policies. The journal uses the standard open-source OJS software for which guidance and a manual will be provided. The work can be done remotely between the student conference in March and the period before graduation in June/July (hence mainly during Easter and after the examination period). The positions will attract a payment for 10 hours work for each position. If you are interested, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org with a brief statement.
It is the intention of the Society to set up a Student Council. The role of the Council will be established by the founding student members in consultation with the Executive Committee, but it expected that the Council will advise on support that the Society can provide for students and graduates on Natural Sciences degree programmes including the running of events for members. If you are interested in joining the Council please submit a brief statement to email@example.com.
And finally …..If you have not paid your subscription for 2020/21 (where due) or 2021/22 please note that memberships are terminated after two years non-payment and to remain a member you will have to apply again. The payment year runs from September 1 to August 31 and membership fees should be paid by September 30. You can check your payment details in the members section of the web site. Officers work for the Society in a voluntary capacity but the Society income is essential to fund the journals, outreach and publicity. If you have any queries on membership please contact firstname.lastname@example.org