FEd August 1994 Newsletter - Comments

August 1994



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Ken Lyons

I am pleased to announce that our first substantive project for active member involvement is now open for registration. This first project is built around a public-access database implemented at Christopher Newport University, in cooperation with the FEd's Executive Council. The present incarnation of this database has one section, which is devoted to summer research opportunities for undergraduate students. Other relevant topics will be added in the future, after we get some experience with the mechanisms we have developed for automated access and updating.

We are indebted to the faculty and staff of CNU for their cooperation on this project, and their agreement to house the database for now on their local computers. I would like especially to recognize two members of the CNU Department of Physics and Computer Science, Shouben Zhou and John Hunter, who have been instrumental in implementing the database software on the CNU computers. I have written the mail handler myself to do automated update of the information, which is intended to enable us to keep the info up to date in a way that calls for minimal administrative overhead.

The concept behind this database is not simply to make information available on existing programs, though. Naturally, we hope it will do that. But that is a minimum expectation. We hope it will do more. One of the advantages of electronic technology is the way it facilitates advertising to a highly targeted group--in this case undergraduate science majors looking for summer jobs. At present, the bulk of such positions reside in relatively large programs (30-100 students). We want to register all of those programs (REU's and others). The existence of this database should assist them in making contact with students, reducing their publicity costs, etc.; however, it will ALSO give this same advertising capability to the scientist who wants to hire one or two students -- it is our hope that there might be a large number of those. The intended effect, then, is to increase substantially the number of such positions available. Of course, it remains to be seen how effective that will be. In this first phase of the project, we are collecting information on positions available for next summer (1995). The registration procedure (see accompanying box for details) is designed to allow anybody with Email or internet access to register via Email to a central address at the APS computer network. The actual update procedure is via Email, since the gopher server does not provide an update capability. The data transfer is almost entirely automated to minimize the administrative overhead required. This naturally requires proper formatting of the data in the Email message, but the template format and instructions should make this straightforward. This procedure is an experiment, and we encourage you to participate by registering if you would like to employ one or more students next summer. We would like to have most of the registration completed by late September or October, so please take the plunge if you're interested.

The second phase of this project will involve advertising to students to make use of the service. We will again be asking our members to help with that process, but more about that next time....

This approach will probably require some adjustments as we go forward. We have some ideas for additional sections that might be added in the future. For example, a means could be provided for students to register for employers to contact them, thus establishing two-way communication. Eventually, we want to use a similar mechanism for registering members interested in mentoring high school students on science projects or interacting with curriculum development projects. I am interested in your thoughts on these possibilities, or others you might suggest. I have no doubt that we will find eventually that proper use of technology will enable us to organize our membership in highly effective communities--but I'm equally sure that it will require a little searching, together with a spirit of cooperation, to get it to work. On all these subjects, I am open to your input and advice: just send Email to kbl@physics.att.com.

Speaking of ideas: I am indebted to Natalia Meshkov, our secretary/treasurer, for suggesting a most interesting approach to the issue of public science education. This is an area where we have had significant concerns, but precious few substantive ideas that sound workable. Natalia has proposed an "APS Media Fellowship," modeled after the very successful Congressional Fellow program the APS has run for a number of years. The idea is that a scientist would take a year or two out of research and concentrate on working with a particular media organization, probably a major network, in some role similar to a science advisor. We are exploring this idea quite actively at this time, both from the standpoint of other support within the APS and possible interest from specific media organizations. We also have a model on which to build in the program the AAAS has run for graduate students for nearly two decades. Clearly, there are a lot of details remaining to be worked out, but this is the kind of innovative approach that I'd like to see us considering as we search for ways the Forum can increase the effectiveness of the APS in many facets of education through the involvement of our members.

Before I close, I want to remind our members that nominations for fellowship and ideas for symposia need to be submitted by early September, which really means over the summer. Please give it some thought and send your nominations for fellowship to our past chair (Drasko Jovanovich, smphy@fnalv.fnal.gov) and ideas for symposia to our chair-elect (Ruth Howe, Kfellow9@labor- maj.senate.gov).