Connecting scientist mentors with students who have the desire to learn

By Caleph B. Wilson

Every scientist has three key experiences that helped them on the road to a career in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM: 1) being born with a desire to learn; 2) having opportunity to apply STEM principles; and 3) guidance from an effective mentor. The desire to learn started early in our lives, and those of us who were lucky began to receive guidance while we were in school. As we navigated the various stages of our careers, all three experiences built upon each other. We scientists know the value of mentoring and providing opportunities to others. However, without a road map to community engagement, finding out how to give back to the community can be difficult…

Read entire post at Planetary.org click here.

Kiera Wilmot Avoids Prison, But Now What?

By Caleph B. Wilson

The initial thought behind ‘zero tolerance’ policies in schools was  that children with consistent discipline issues would make up most suspensions.  However, ‘model students’ can also become entangled in mandatory school punishments.

On April 22, 2013, 16-year-old Kiera Wilmot was expelled from her South Florida high school for creating small ‘explosive’ by mixing household chemicals and a small wad of aluminum foil.  Further, Florida’s state attorney charged her with felonies equal to if she had discharged a firearm and a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ on school property.  Interestingly, Wilmot’s principal Ron Pritchard was disturbed by the harshness of the school district’s punishment…

Read entire post at Ebony.com click here.

Breast Cancer Prevention and Angelina Jolie: A Story of Empowerment and Access

By Caleph B. Wilson

Today Angelina Jolie announced that she had a double mastectomy because of a mutation in her copy of the BRCA1 gene.

This deserves attention for everyone especially women of color.  Although, Jolie had the BRCA1 mutation she has income, access and/or insurance to have this preventative procedure.  (Information on BRAC1/2:  http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/BRCA) For too many women gene testing and preventative surgery is out of reach.  Moreover, women of color have breast cancer related surgery at a delayed rate which increases the rate of death.  Transferring Jolie’s ‘empowered’ feeling to others would hopefully help breast cancer survival rates.

Also, let’s note that the US Supreme Court is listing to arguments over patents for BRCA.   This case will determine if access to life saving tests will be in reach for everyone.  The other issue is related to companies or research institution owning genes of patients.  If they can patients have to argue their cut of any money generated.  I wonder what Jolie’s stance on this is.

As with most things, it is great that a celebrity face has been associated with a disease.  Now attention will be focused on it.  Now, we (scientist) need everyone else to tell Congress to not let sequestration hurt the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  New effective surgeries or treatments will not happen without the money to do the experiments.

NOTE:  Please, share your thoughts and comments on our Facebook page:  First Generation STEM: Education, Science, Community and Knowledge.

Time to Stop Harassing Poor Folks

By Caleph B. Wilson

As a “Son of Mississippi” I am very proud of the early experiences that shaped my life.  My family and the people that I group-up around did their best to teach me and encourage me to work hard and effectively.  In turn, each time an opportunity presented itself, I worked to be appropriately prepared for it.  Given the experiences that  I have had one thing is very clear:  The notion that one pulls themselves up by their boot straps is nonsense.

Without all of those folks who decided to follow the Southern phrase, “If can’t do nothing to help ya, I ain’t gone do nothing to hurt ya,” it would have been impossible for me to follow my dreams.  So, any success attributed to me is not mine alone.  My family, friends and supporters are just as responsible.  They provided the guidance, while my role was to put in the required honest effort.

This is where I take issue with the cognitive dissonance of those in my home state (and around the country and world) that blame poor people for not working hard enough to get anywhere.  Further, poor folk are constantly characterized as “takers.”  The truth is that most folks that are considered poor go to work every day.  Today’s poor folks are just like the ones that raised me.  Each day starts before with a prayer before the sun peaks over the horizon.  Kids are readied for school, breakfast is prepared and the family parts looking forward to the new day.  Each adult takes pride in earning an honest pay and children are excited about learning.

So, these poor folk are not “takers.”  They don’t look for anything that is not earned.  Instead, their expectation is that hard work will be rewarded.  Yet, a lifetime can pass without any reward.

These poor folk are told how they are dependent on the government.  How the Federal government is trying to take their freedom.  Government is “bad.”

Well, here’s what I have to say to poor people.  When you are confronted with those folk that refuse to recognize your hard work at school or on the job, remind them of these words, “JUDGE not, that ye be not judged.”  Also, remind them of the hypocrisy of pseudo-leaders Those same so-called leaders that chastise you for expecting help from the tax dollars that you and your family has paid or will pay.  Remind them that 40% of the Mississippi state budget is provided by tax payers from all around the country.  Ask those pseudo-leaders if why are they accepting a handout from “Big Gov’ment.”  Look them in the eye and ask why they are not helping themselves.

So, all of you hardworking folk that happen to be poor:  Don’t pay attention to the non-sense.  Keep striving to give yourself and your family a better life.  Remember, folks like you are the backbone of this country.  Your compassion for and love of these United States is what leads people from all over the world to risk life and limb to live where you live.

NOTE:  The post above is drawn from my personal experiences, however, the opinion can be applied to all 50 states.  I was driven written to address the growing number of media reports that quote folks unjustly blaming the poor.

School Security: Out of the Frying Pan Into the Fire?

By Caleph B. Wilson

Before the end of the school year a middle school in Grenada, MS (my hometown) identified a student that brought a loaded handgun to school.  In this case clear communication between students, staff, teachers and administrators lead to disarming the student without incident.  (Because a minor was involved some of the details of the situation is incomplete.  Hopefully, this very serious incident will be rapidly resolved and include measures that will eventually allow the student re-enter the educational system.)  This was a clear demonstration of how communities can entrust school districts to keep their children safe.  Unfortunately, the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hood Elementary School in Newton, CT is the backdrop for this situation.

With this in mind, the Grenada School District (GSD) has worked with local authorities and parents to review their security plans and contingencies.  This process has been played out by school districts all over the country.  It is a clear demonstration that communities and policy makers are working together to keep children safe and focused on learning.  Commonsense and professionalism is where we all should place our trust.

On top of this, some have moved to pushing for armed security, metal detectors and other security measures.  However, arming teachers moves unreasonably to the extreme.    Teachers are trained education professionals and should be focused on teaching not staying on the ready to engage armed threats.  Further, with all that we demand for educators adding more to their plates will likely have negative impact on the education of children.

Additionally, the cost in insurance and added security would likely mean reallocation of funds from pure educational activities.  Here is a question:  Does it make sense to hurt education quality by taking away funds that are already stretched thin? Educating our children is the point.  That is why all stake holders have to be engaged in the conversation.  Parents, families, students, educators, school administrators, law enforcement and government (local, state and federal) have to be shape the conversation for efficient, effect and balanced school security measures.

So, adding armed uniformed off duty police officers for security is a reasonable response.  Yet this situation can go overboard.  Remember schools are not correctional facilities and over doing armed security at schools may change the atmosphere.

We live in an open and free society.  Preserving our way of life truly depends on maintaining our identity in the face of horrific tragedy.  Reason and data driven professional advice should always guide our response(s).

UPDATE (12 December 2012):  A source within the Grenada School District confirmed that GSD did not detect the firearm until after the suspected student brandished the handgun at another student while on a school bus.

Carrying the Good Baggage with Us

By Caleph B. Wilson

Now that we have moved on from the structured world of the PhD candidate, taking the lessons learned with us is  imperative  for  future  success  in  the  scientific enterprise  within  and outside  of academia.   Along  the way,  technical  skills  were  gained,  papers  were published,  and we somehow  convinced  our thesis advisors and at least two other people to write solid letters of recommendation.

For all of that have successfully   obtained our PhDs, there is one thing that we can agree on, IT WAS AN EXERCISE IN SELF-­‐MOTIVATION!  We should begin to consistently view our postdoctoral experiences not just in terms of technical training but the development of your overall marketability…

Read entire post at BPC Newsletter click here.

How Do You Know that You Have Been Heard?

By Caleph B. Wilson

What is the Biomedical Postdoctoral Council (BPC), and what has it done for me lately? Unfortunately, too many biomedical postdocs are asking these questions. As scientists our approach does not just require posing a question. Instead, we have to ask the most appropriate question(s). So, I propose this question: How can postdocs proactively maximize their overall training experience at the University of Pennsylvania?

Okay, let’s start with the two opening questions. The BPC serves as a platform to advocate for policy issues related to the postdoctoral training. In fact, each biomedical postdoc is a member of the BPC; however, only a few us chair or serve on committees. Now, before your blood pressure rises in anticipation of a lecture, let me be clear: I am not wagging my finger at postdocs. We are very busy people who are intensely focused on our careers. Our time is very valuable. However, the collective diversity of all of our respective training experiences can serve your individual postdoctoral training experience very well, and the BPC is listening…

Read entire post at BPC Newsletter click here.

Wanted: More Under-represented Minority Professors in the Life Sciences

Article Co-Authored with Marybeth Gasman

If you ask minority high school students interested in biology what they want to do as a future career, they typically tell you that they want to be a physician or dentist.  Unfortunately, what they don’t tell you is that they want to be a professor or researcher.  This lack of interest is often due to a lack of exposure or negative stories about being a professor in the sciences.  Becoming a professor in the life sciences often takes at least 10 years after the bachelor’s degree due to the need for post-doctoral experiences.  In addition, students are often lured to practitioner-focused careers by higher starting salaries and the prestige associated with being a physician or dentist.

Read entire post at Diverse Issues in Higher Education click here.

Went to a Career Revival to See a LinkedIn Evangelist!

By Caleph B. Wilson

Recently, I attended a career/job event with an evangelist!  SLOW DOWN, it is not what you think.  The speaker was John HillLinkedIn‘s Higher Education Evangelist.  Okay, the title “Higher Education Evangelist” might seem a bit much, however, there were a few things to learn.

Admittedly, the program’s title “How LinkedIn Can Advance Your Career:  Special Guest John Hill, LinkedIn’s Higher Education Evangelist” sparked my interest to attend.  It has been over five years since my LinkedIn account was created, and my list of connections have grown greatly in that time.  So, my first thoughts were: 1.) I pretty much know all there is to know about using LinkedIn; 2.) this guy is likely to be crazy or creepy; and 3.) why not try to learn something new about getting jobs or advancing my career.  (Yes, numbers 1 and 3 could be construed as contradictions.)

Needless-to-say, I do not know everything about utilizing LinkedIn, but it was good to know that my skills at the site were on track.  Used correctly/effectively the professional networks at LinkedIn can be a great tool to tap into the “hidden” job market.  For example, do you anyone at the company that you are applying to?  If not, it is likely that you can find someone that you are connected to, i.e. college, past/current employer, organizations, with a search on LinkedIn.  Can you say internal referral!

Lastly, John Hill was a great promoter of the power of LinkedIn.  Great energy!  He even convinced a friend of mine that is diametrically opposed to online social networking to join.  The best part of the event was when he did a search of for an audience member, and it turned out to be a “drop the mic” moment!  Time well spent!