A group of us at Earlham College will be teaching a seminar (1 credit, both semesters) for an interdisciplinary group of first year science students involved in a science themed Living Learning Community. Our general goal for the first semester is to help them develop the interpersonal, collaborative and technology skills necessary for success in science. We've joked that the course should be titled "Playing Well in the Sandbox with New Toys." For example, we might introduce them to googledocs, google+, and the infamous doodle poll. We might encourage teamwork and teach GIS, GPS, and Google Earth with a complicated campus scavenger hunt. Does anyone teach a similar course or part of a course? What are some topics and activities that might be good to do? What did you wish you (or your students) knew in this area before grad school? We could use some ideas!
Skills I wish I knew (or I wished that the people I worked with knew) before going into grad school:
- How to make aesthetically pleasing and informative images for publications/slides for presentations/posters (it still suprises me how ugly/bad some images/presentations/posters are from people who are leaders in their fields). Bad images detract from the communication of the overall knowledge.
- How to share data/information in a way that others can access it and work on it (Dropbox, google docs).
- How to make references formatted properly using Endnote. I didn't use Endnote until my postdoc, and even then I noticed some people blindly using it, leading to tons of errors in their references section.
- How to collaborate with someone who may have a different understanding of things (such as different ideas on a mechanism, or a very different background like a solid-state physicist vs. an organometallic chemist) without butting heads too much.
Excel - specifically making high quality graphs and using the math functions in Excel. I'm always amazed at how much trouble my students have with this and how inefficient they are. We do lots of Excel oriented activities in our freshman majors lab.
We have this seminar course at TCNJ. It spans three semesters, but you can incorporate pieces that you may find useful. We teach the students how to search for articles using SciFinder, how to write a scientific resume, how to use ChemDraw, improve upon presentation skills, discussions on ethics in chemistry/science, safety, interviewing skills, etc. There are more things we cover but if you want me to send along our program let me know.
These are all great ideas, but if you don't explore what it means to be a scientist (in an identity development sense) then I think you're missing a great opportunity.
I have two really good activities on values that would be great for Earlham students in a class like this. It would be really cool to combine them, which I don't do because I teach them in gen ed classes that don't have science students.
One is on values in science and we read a piece by Doug Allchin. Here's the short version: http://www1.umn.edu/ships/ethics/values.htm, but the reference for the published version of it is at the bottom of the web page. It's a little challenging to first year students because they may not have thought about the term "values" in all of the ways that he uses it.
The other activity involves students exploring their own values, and they make values T-shirts. I'd be happy to send you the handouts that. Just email me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Not sure exactly how you would combine them, but I can envision some discussion about whether the students' personal values and the values of science (especially the epistemic values) overlap.
To add to the list, I think useful skills should also include how to use web videoconferencing technology (not just 1 on 1, but groups with giving presentations over that). In the academic world it seems to be more and more common, especially in large collaborative grants. You can have up to ten lines in on a google+ hangout and share someone's desktop to present results.
In a "soft skills" class, it would also be good to cover how to succeed and maintain good mental health in grad school, especially in terms of going from a structured format (college) to a self-starting/self-motivating format in which you might not see you boss for days/weeks (grad school) and you are expected to make progress.
We'd like an update on the class!
Giving presentations is a very important skill (especially in science), and it would be good to emphasize that in a "soft skills" class.
Along those lines, here's a recent editorial on giving a presentation from Angewandte Chemie Internation Edition: