Academic Perspectives/Panel Discussion

moderator: Douglas Lauffenburger, Center for Future Civic Media, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: James Cassatt, National Institute of General Medical Sciences
author: Leroy Hood, Institute for Systems Biology
author: H. Steven Wiley, Systems Biology, Pacific Northwest Labs
author: Huntington Willard, Pacific Northwest Labs
author: Marc W. Kirschner, Department of Systems Biology, Harvard Medical School
author: George Poste, Health Technology Networks
author: Matthew P. Scott, Developmental Biology, School of Medicine, Stanford University
author: Peter Sorger
author: David Botstein, Lewis-Sigler Institute of Integrative Genomics, Princeton University
published: Feb. 4, 2013,   recorded: January 2004,   views: 2623

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In this wide-ranging discussion, panelists seized on redesigning science education as a way of ensuring the success of systems biology. The first challenge lies in improving instruction in the earliest years. David Botstein said, “K-12 education has never been that great…(kids) don’t need to know everything in excruciating detail….Anything they find out by themselves is worth 10 or 20 of anything you tell them to do." Mark Kirschner remarked, “What’s left out is appropriate kinds of inquiry, and at the appropriate age.” Leroy Hood spoke with master teachers and “understood that the worst way to teach was lecture.” Another obstacle lies with the culture of higher education, where scientists are rewarded for focusing on a single specialty and for research, not teaching. George Poste pointed to “rampant egotism that’s destructive,” preventing collaboration. Peter Sorger commented, “Autonomy is given to faculty members in classroom. We need expectations. Students will gravitate to those courses that are taught well.” A major hurdle for budding systems biologists involves embracing a larger biology. Matt Scott spoke of building “excitement about things beautiful and mysterious.” Other panelists expressed hope that the diversity of living things would generate a passion not only to understand the fundamental interdependence among all living things but to preserve species as well.

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