Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Student Research is a Christian Activity

Today in Opening Convocation our University President referred to a recent lecture N.T. Wright gave at St. Andrew's, which refers to the Christian task in learning as the "Upside-Down University". My church just finished a series on Matthew 5-7 titled "The Upside-Down Kingdom." I think they're copying from the same notes somehow. (Which is a good thing!) It occured to me as I watched my friend, the molecular biologist, give the invocation at the beginning of the ceremony, that entrusting the progress of research to undergraduates is a risky proposition, and somewhat upside-down. Maybe that's what many scientists at a level fear about it -- and possibly justifiably so! Undergrads take a lot more time to teach and to oversee and to interpret and even to present results than grad students or post-docs. Progress is, as a result, slow by the standards of other labs. You can't work on the hottest problem because you'll almost definitely be scooped. But you do it this way because it's best for them. They are the reason you research in this way. And that's the kind of upside-down thinking that is summed up and put forward by Jesus himself, in his teaching on the one mount early on, and in his actions on the other mount on Good Friday. This is a good reminder as I start the busiest time of the year for me teaching-wise. I don't have students complete research for the short-term benefits. I do it for the long-term ones.

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