NIH ARRA / supplement success story

July 9, 2009

Bora has an interview up with one Stacy C. Baker, a high school biology teacher who is well known around the science blogosphere for an active use of new Web type technologies in biology instruction. Read it because, among other things, you will come away with the thought I had of “OMG if we could just clone her for every fifth biology high school position that would be awesome!“. The enthusiasm and dedication of this teacher, who after all is at the very most critical point in recruiting new brains into science careers, is palpable. And there are links a-plenty to see what she has been doing with new teaching technologies.
Still the thing that really caught my eye was this:

This summer I’m working in Michael Nitabach’s lab at Yale studying circadian rhythms in fruit flies. The project is funded by a NIH grant directed at getting science teachers involved in research.

The NIH grant was offered through the use of the ARRA money. Hopefully, NIH will seriously consider offering the grant every year. It would be a strong investment into the future of science education.

This looks like one of the administrative supplements that were on offer for the purpose Summer Research Experiences for Students and Science Educators as part of the stimulus package. Looks like a success to me! Miss* Baker noted in her interview at ABATC:

At the risk of upsetting the traditionalists, I believe there is total lunacy in allowing a person to teach science who has never actually practiced science. You can’t learn science by reading textbooks or taking educational methodology classes. Every science teacher needs to have the experience of participating in original research and they need to routinely refresh their skills.

I don’t know that we can expect this as a standard everywhere. Being a high school teacher is really demanding and the nature of the job in the US does not allow A) a great deal of choosiness about who gets hired and B) a great deal of ongoing experience as a practicing/publishing/etc scientist at the cutting edges. But it is a thing to be respected, cherished and supported where it IS a possibility.
I want to note, however, that this is not just an effort that sprung up with the ARRA. I am aware of many institutions that run some sort of summer program which includes drawing local science educators into the laboratories. These have, to my limited awareness, been funded by a variety of sources including, I think, administrative supplements to research grants. At the very least, it is usually possible to pay summer interns out of grant funds and although in most cases these are undergraduate students, there is no reason this can’t be done with local high school teachers. All it really takes is identifying a teacher who would be interested.
If this sounds interesting to you, maybe explore whether your University has programs to reach out to the local high school educators? You might happen upon someone who comes back for several summers and contributes substantially to your ongoing program.
*she uses this online (, don’t kill me

No Responses Yet to “NIH ARRA / supplement success story”

  1. DSKS Says:

    “…there is no reason this can’t be done with local high school teachers”
    Also a great idea to include internships as part of the teaching degree itself, especially if there is a science specialty. Unless that’s already being implemented.


  2. pinus Says:

    A neighbor-lab of mine does this..I think I might try to get it done next summer.


  3. Zuska Says:

    I don’t know that we can expect this as a standard everywhere.
    Sigh. I sure wish we could. Maybe if we actually paid high school teachers close to what they are worth for the incredibly important work they do, so that it at least, say, 30% as financially appealing of a career option as getting an MBA or selling insurance or being a plumber. I’m not talking investment banker salaries, you know, just something moderately competitive.
    Years ago, when I was working on getting an M.Ed. degree (thinking I would transition from lab research to teaching high school math) I was advised repeatedly by more than one of my instructors – in a very well respected M.Ed. program – NOT to go into teaching. They all said to me variations on the following: the salaries are too low for such demanding work and someone with your educational background (the PhD) has so many other options where you could also have a good influence, why go do this?
    Isn’t that a shame? Imagine a world where we thought moving into teaching K-12 was an admirable and useful and remunerative career track for people with PhDs. We sure don’t have enough university positions for all of the ones we’re producing. Think what we could gain, as a nation, if we were able to effectively additionally train and divert some of them into K-12. But that would require that our society value K-12 teaching enough to (1) make that a financially realistic career option for PhDs/MS folks and (2) make it a socially valued career option for PhDs/MS.


  4. bill Says:

    From what I’ve seen, teaching salaries are about on par with postdoc salaries — low by comparison with some professions but not horrible. And since most postdocs will get that far and then be forced to do something else anyway, I think “financially realistic” is a wash.
    What might help is some kind of support for the year or so it takes to get through a Dip Ed — I might consider it, but first I need a job so I could do the degree part-time. It could work like many other training fellowships, take the money for the Dip Ed and “pay back” with X years work as a teacher.
    (Funny how you can teach at college with just a PhD but to teach high school requires actual teaching qualifications. I suppose that’s better than the other way around, since we want the best teachers early in the system… by the time you get to college you should be able to take some responsibility for your own education.)


  5. studyzone Says:

    @Bill: I taught high school science for several years before returning to grad school to earn my PhD. I was shocked when I realized that I made more as a first-year grad student (NIH pre-doc scale) than I did as a first-year public school teacher (with a Masters degree). In my home state, I’d have to teach for 10 years before I could expect to make the equivalent of a first-year postdoc salary. My Masters in Teaching program was full-time (no part-time options available), so it was difficult to hold down a job during the 18-month program, so I’m with you on that. In my home state, there are no grants, scholarships or fellowships for Masters students in Education – they only way to pay for it is through loans [I’m still paying off my loan]. Seems to me that one way to attract the best and brightest to education would be to make the training programs more economically feasible.
    Teachers like my high school biology teacher (who, more than anyone, inspired me to go into science) and Stacy Baker are my role models – and one reason why I left teaching was the feeling that I could never be as good as they were/are in teaching science. Someday, I do hope to go back to teaching high school science – older, wiser, and better-able to “do it right”.


  6. Eugenie Says:

    My college doesn’t have an outreach program per-se, but in terms of educating future teachers, they get thrown in with the mix of us science types. My sister wants to teach elementary-level kids and her background training is in physics (essentially a complete degree).


  7. Alex Says:

    Unfortunately, enabling research experience for every teacher is probably not a scalable model. But one teacher per high school might be feasible, and that teacher can then disseminate what he/she learns to other teachers. We have a large NSF proposal under review right now, and one aspect of our program will be a “teacher in residence” who will work with us in the summer on some project that can be brought back to the classroom. That might mean the teacher gets into the thick of the research with us and then reports back to students, or it might mean that the teacher develops course materials that bring our work to the classroom, or it might mean something else. It will be whatever sort of experience the teacher would find most useful for bringing modern research into the classroom and helping students learn better and get more excited.
    We can’t help every teacher in our area, but we can help one, and we can develop something that can be shared with other teachers.


  8. What a fucking waste of money. Since when is NIH supposed to be in the business of mollycoddling high-school science teachers?


  9. becca Says:

    I’m with CPP. We should just shot all the whiny ass titty baby high school teachers. Then the smart kids who would be worthwhile as scientists can skip from 8th grade to college, and all the others can learn about it from Mythbusters, or ignore science in favor of Church, or whateverthehell else interaction with science the general public has, because high school science is totally worthless anyway.


  10. Alex Says:

    I’m with becca. Training people who will train others is not the motherfucking job of a professor running a lab full of students. Universities are not a motherfucking educational institution!!!11eleventy!!! There’s no reason for programs that support trainees to support motherfucking training or educational missions. Why are these whinyasstittybaby high school teachers interested in spending summers in the motherfucking lab learning motherfucking science? Whathehell!11!!?
    Seriously, though, as long as we have a system where science is done by teams of trainees supervised by educational professionals, why not bring in the occasional high school teacher? Yeah, if you tried to scale it up too much then it starts to bite deeply into resources for science, but if the research is the sole goal and training outcomes are irrelevant, then (1) we wouldn’t have a system in which trainees are such an integral part and (2) nobody would give a fuckitty fuck if a PI’s trainees went on to faculty positions. All that would matter would be the PI’s publications and their impact.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: