JUDGMENT IN RESEARCH
One of my contributions to the teaching program at the Institute for
Astronomy has been the development of a graduate course on Judgment in
Graduate programs offer many courses on astronomical subfields and a few
on the techniques by which we make and analyze measurements. No formal course
in the traditional curriculum covers the critical question of how we choose
problems for study. I believe that we can better prepare students for their
careers by providing a systematic introduction to these issues. The purposes
of Judgment in Research are:
1 -- To develop machinery to help students to judge which research
projects are worth their valuable time;
2 -- To develop machinery to help young scientists to judge how the
community views their work;
3 -- To provide exercises in which students experience judgment processes
that will be applied to them;
4 -- To provide an introduction to and exercises in practical aspects of
research. These include: writing job, grant, and telescope time applications,
writing papers, giving talks, refereeing, and ethics.
This is not a theoretical course on the philosophy of science. It is a
practical course on career management. The intention is to help students to
develop scientific maturity: to encourage them to think about how their work
fits into their chosen areas of research, to understand how the community reacts
to their contributions, and to make decisions that will help them to have
2. WHY SHOULD A GRADUATE PROGRAM HAVE A COURSE ON JUDGMENT IN RESEARCH?
Today's job market is more difficult than the one that most present
faculty members remember. Since the 1970s, an exponential growth in jobs in
science has slowed drastically (e. g., Goodstein 1993 Spring, Eng. & Sci.,
23). In his words, this ``will be seen in the future as the period in which
science began a dramatic and irreversible change into an entirely new regime.''
It had to be coming: Goodstein notes that ``the average American professor at a
research university turns out about 15 PhD students in the course of a career''.
If most of these became professors at research universities, we would have an
amplifier with a strong feedback loop. Rapidly expanding university faculties
absorbed a healthy fraction of the new PhDs until the 1970s. A good scientist
could reasonably expect to succeed. Today's students cannot be so optimistic.
Ability and hard work are becoming no sufficient guarantee of a job. If the
aim of our graduate program is to generate productive astronomers, then we
should give them every possible advantage. A course on career management is
one type of help that we can provide.
Judgment in Research was last taught in Spring semester 1998.
An outline is given here.
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Last update: February 7, 2000
John Kormendy (email@example.com)