Tag Archives: cognitive science


When I was a child, I loved The Rescuers – a Disney movie about two mice who rescue a kidnapped girl. It had everything a five-year old animal lover could want – drama, intrigue and heroic cute animals. But it had something else I loved: a song called “Evinrude,” composed by Artie Butler (who, as a side note, played keyboards on the Shangri-Las “Leader of the Pack”). Here’s a link to a video for the song “Evinrude.” You might want to listen to it several times for full effect.

Beyond Academia: a new approach to PhDs

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If you ask a tenured professor, they’ll often tell you that graduate school largely serves a single purpose: to prepare the next generation of professors.  Such an approach to graduate school reflects a romantic view of academia: hundreds of bright young minds flocking together at the worlds greatest institutions of new ideas and cutting-edge thinkers.  However, upon their arrival at the annals of nearly any big-name university, a different reality begins to set in.

Contrary to the enthusiastic encouragement of their professors, getting an academic job isn’t simply a matter of going to grad school and settling into a tenure-track position.  Instead, only a small fraction of them will actually get an academic job.  In a recent report, the NSF suggested that a mere 20% of graduate students get jobs in the academic world, a staggeringly small number given that the “sole” purpose of graduate school is supposed to be training professors.

This is largely a product of the changing demographics in the world of academia.  Just like any industry, the world of university-driven research has attracted more and more people to it, and universities in turn have expanded their ability to train graduate students.  However, this influx of eager young scientists has not coincided with an increase in the number of jobs available to academics.  As such, a fixed slice of the pie is being divided up by larger and larger groups of people, often leading to a cutthroat and politically-driven culture of scientific one-upsmanship.

Do creative children become creative scientists?

Skimming through the lists of new articles in my RSS reader today, my eyes stopped at one paper in particular. The title, “Genesis of Creativity“, would not have seemed out of place in a psychology text (indeed, there are whole journals devoted to creativity research), but this journal was ACS Nano. I clicked through, thinking that the article was perhaps about the discovery of creativity-inducing nanowires.

In fact, the article was something much less far-fetched but still quite interesting. It was a perspective by James Tour, a chemist at Rice University and recipient of the 2012 ACS Nano Lectureship Award. On the occasion of this honor, Tour felt compelled to think back on the greatest successes from his research career and trace them back to their sources. He starts by recognizing the students and postdocs who did the labwork, of course, but he doesn’t stop there. He profiles three exceptionally creative problem solvers from his lab and asks the question: If the greatest discoveries in nanoscience have come from these brilliant minds, where did the brilliant minds come from?

An Inconvenient Truth: Race in America

It is an American tragedy whenever an unarmed teenage boy–of any color–is fatally shot. And when you strip down the Trayvon Martin shooting to its core, that is exactly what we were all faced with in Florida several weeks ago–a senseless tragedy. As a result, there has been a re-emergence of questions about the meaning of race in today’s America. I will be taking on some of these tough questions in a series of blog posts I’m calling “An Inconvenient Truth.” In this discussion of race in America, I will pull no punches.

One of the main talking points (but definitely not the only one) in the Trayvon Martin shooting, and in the eventual arrest of his killer, George Zimmerman, has been race. Did race play a role in Zimmerman’s actions that day? Was Zimmerman unfairly judging Martin based on his skin color?  If Martin was of another racial/ethnic group, would the same things have happened?