Tag Archives: academia

The Big Brain Begins to Think

By Research Scholars Emily Monosson, Arika Virapongse  and Judy Daniels 

At the Ronin Institute, we’ve been working on a Big Brain project that intends to collect and share experiences and insights by scholars operating outside of traditional academic institutions. Our Big Brain project got off to a great start in early March 2021 with two MeetUp sessions.

For the first session, we used a Google Jamboard to brain-storm on different questions–it was a white-board post-it note combination where anyone could add a note to the board. We began with four questions based loosely around: Turning Points; Roadblocks; and Lessons/Solutions as an independent scholar. The last board was centered around Helpful thoughts and tips. For the second session, we spent time organizing the boards by grouping post-it notes together and making sense of them.

The boards are fascinating. Take a look. 

Turning points_Big Brain
Road Blocks_Big Brain Ronin
Lessons and Solutions_Big Brain_Ronin
Helpful thoughts_Big Brain Ronin

From this first MeetUp for the Big Brain, we realized that the questions we posed inadvertently suggested that independent scholars have problems that need solving, and that is why we are all here at the Ronin Institute. However, we learned that some of us are here as a sort of second or third phase of our career, for example, after leaving a full career in academia and elsewhere but still wanting to carry on with scholarship within a community.

One thing that became clear is that Ronin Research Scholars are a diverse group who value community. So, another task going forward from this session will be how to better facilitate community building, networking, and cohesion. In other words, how scholars might find others with the community with similar interests. Importantly, the MeetUp stimulated some great conversation that continued well after the event.

To continue with the Big Brain initiative, we’re planning to have monthly Big Brain sessions that will each focus on a theme that emerged from the boards and conversations. These themes will range from how to find logistical support to time-life management and grant writing.

This is all exciting! Stay tuned for more updates from the Big Brain.

A Simple Plan to Change the Way We Do Higher Education

By Ronin Research Scholar John Paulas

It is time to convert campuses to flourishing spaces for the communities where they are.

Higher education leaders are becoming increasingly aware of a truth that the last year’s catastrophes and social awakenings have accentuated. Colleges and universities have been running an operating deficit that has grown into a huge debt, a deficit of care. The culture of higher education is simply not driven by care for the people of its campus community, let alone the people of the community who live their lives outside its gates. 

As with all problematic systems, the culture, policies, and institutional structures are to blame for this situation, not individuals. However, the ailing culture manifests itself through the conscious and unconscious thoughts, words, and actions or inaction of any individual within the culture.

The ecological study of the “edge effect” has seen that increased biodiversity and interaction happens at the margins of habitats. Think of the border of the field and forest or a riverbank. Let’s make our campuses the real community junction that they can be rather than the pricey gated communities they have become.

A work culture that doesn’t work

Academic labor occurs as if in a monastery. Novices are trained in the culture of the traditional university. They are told from the beginning that only the few “good ones” will “make it” as tenured professors. The others must look elsewhere. Upon taking final vows, they experience firsthand the harsh reality that no place exists for them in any monastery. This discouraging “professional” culture affects all members of the academic community, placing value only on the monolithic outcome of the tenured faculty job, ignoring the individual hopes, intentions, and work of its people, and never seriously looking to the community beyond the monastery walls.

The fact that we can talk about “town–gown” relations, the language presupposing a natural tension, shows the non-organic relationship between communities and the campuses within them. For the knowledge production community to flourish in the future, all boundaries between campus and community must be erased. 

Incredible service done by employees who care is not only a nonstarter in hiring and promotion, but also a de facto impediment to both. This culture of the university must be repaired, and all relationships must be healed through the creation and maintenance of a healthy community. To produce a flourishing culture, care for humans and the practice of humaneness must be prioritized, while care for protecting abstraction, ideals, disciplines, attitudes, outlooks, etc., must be put aside. Attempts at “public outreach” are doomed from the start because of the deprioritizing of humane practice within the culture of higher education, and because the community beyond the campus could benefit from inroads but does not need a helping hand.

Continue reading A Simple Plan to Change the Way We Do Higher Education

Life happens while you are working on your lifework! Notes from a Field Scientist

By Ronin Research Scholar Candace Gossen, on her Ronin Public Seminar on Feb 12, 2021:

I am very grateful to the Ronin Institute for offering the opportunity to talk about my life work on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). My PhD field work and research began on the island in 2002 as I was looking for answers as to whether rainfall diminishes when a forest is cut.  The story of Easter Island has always been told that the islanders cut down all of their forests and caused their own collapse. I challenged that story, and asked a simple question “What Really Happened to the Trees?” Hence the title of my seminar with the Ronin Institute. In brief, 15 years of work on the island, uncovering 15,000 years of collected data, I was able to look at long term climate change with repeating cycles of extreme events, and identify 40 extinct plants and 17 trees along with 4 new palms including the giant palm Jubaea. Collectively coring the crater lakes of Rano Kao has created a new story to be told, and moving forward with hope of planting thousands of new trees. 

My presentation talked about the science and people of the island, but one topic that continues to resurface is how life happens while you are working on your lifework! Pre-pandemic the most common question I would get when I presented my research was always about aliens, it never failed there was always an alien question that popped up, but perhaps it is the time (pandemic) and a new generation that is asking us as scholars and leaders how to shine a way forward. Life stories are not easy, but they are full and rich, and I am glad to share how my life has been formed, and formed by me like an entangled mess of roots and branches of the tree of life, my life, my lifework on Rapa Nui.

As a young girl, Rapa Nui was not a place I knew growing up in the bayous of Louisiana. My world was rich spending all of my time with nature. Climbing trees, listening, watching the lightning bugs, my world was full and it was a saving grace from the poverty, racism and bigotry that I grew up in. As a voracious reader, Bulfinch’s Mythology, Atlantis and the Guinness Book of World Records were always on my mind. This set the precedent which would unfold along my life path with my foot in the ancient cultures of the past, my climbing in the present, and eyes toward the future of saving trees.  

Life stories are not easy, but they are full and rich, and I am glad to share how my life has been formed, and formed by me like an entangled mess of roots and branches of the tree of life, my life, my lifework on Rapa Nui.

At 16, I started college as an artist who had been told I could not make art my job, therefore I had to pick a profession. Looking through the college catalog, I picked Architecture because it had the most art classes, but I loved design, and found my way as an activist fighting to save trees, so my architecture molded into ecological design, finding other materials and solutions to building practices and looking at all the embodied energy we use to make these things. Things just had to be more simple and then I was introduced to Bucky Fuller and it rocked my world. When we started the 5 year Professional degree in Architecture, the Dean told us to look around the theatre that had 250 people in it and said “look around; only 25 of you will make it, who is it going to be?” Of course I counted myself in. I was told constantly that girls should be Interior Designers, not Architects. After all, we were in the deep south. That however, raised my grit and I am happy to say that I was the only girl of 22 that graduated in my class and I received the Alpha Rho Chi Medal of Service and Leadership. I guess they knew something big was coming!

As an architect, the world of practice is nothing like school where you get to design freely with high hope. In the real world it is practical, cheap and no thought about nature. I found myself wanting so much more, and then one day I was fired for being pregnant, that was when there were no laws to protect women from these things. As a single mother with a 2 year old I picked up and moved West and that opened my world. I went to Arizona State, to the Architecture Dept., seeking to learn about solar architecture and buildings of earth. It seemed there were crazy pioneers hanging out in the desert, and there was much to learn from the ancestors at Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon. Me and the kid made it, even though many of my projects included crayon drawings in the mix. I wanted to teach and the masters degree was my first step in that direction.

As an architect, the world of practice is nothing like school where you get to design freely with high hope. In the real world it is practical, cheap and no thought about nature. I found myself wanting so much more, and then one day I was fired for being pregnant, that was when there were no laws to protect women from these things. As a single mother with a 2 year old I picked up and moved West and that opened my world.

Continue reading Life happens while you are working on your lifework! Notes from a Field Scientist

Reflections on 2020: COVID, research, career and prospects

By Ronin Research Scholar Keith Tse

2020 has been a year like no other, and for obvious reasons. It came as no surprise that the word chosen as Word of the Year for 2020 by the American Dialect Society was COVID, since this has been and still is plaguing (literally) our global community since the beginning of 2020. The effects of the worst pandemic in almost a century have been disastrous for all of us, since with travel bans in place and people being discouraged from even leaving their homes many businesses, especially retail and tourist-related ones, have gone into recession, which will no doubt get worse in the coming years and drag our global economy down with it. In academia and higher education, the significant drop in revenue caused by students now studying from home, attending lectures online and abstaining from even coming into university campus has forced many universities to reconsider their budget and departmental infrastructure, which seems to have a ripple-effect on admissions and employment and many prospective academic hopefuls (myself included) are rethinking their career plans and even established academics are now considering leaving academia for financially more stable pastures (which may perhaps make them want to join our institute for independent scholars, though such causal connections are yet to be established).

In academia and higher education, the significant drop in revenue caused by students now studying from home, attending lectures online and abstaining from even coming into university campus has forced many universities to reconsider their budget and departmental infrastructure, which seems to have a ripple-effect on admissions and employment

The human cost of the pandemic has also been vast and grave, not only in terms of the number of daily/weekly reported deaths and the soaring number of infections overwhelming our public health systems, but also in terms of our collective mental health which has shown record number of cases of depression and suicide or simply mass anger as seen in recent protests and demonstrations against nationwide lockdown in numerous countries. There is light to be glimpsed from the end of this dark tunnel with mass vaccination now being put into effect by governments and well-credited pharmaceutical companies, though it would be naïve to think that our world will suddenly go back to its pre-COVID state just because we now have something that comes close to being a cure, especially since we have now discovered that it is possible for the virus to mutate and spread asymptomatically. The end of 2020 is truly a pivotal moment in our modern history, and as we transition into 2021, we seem to find ourselves in a crisis that only occurs once in a lifetime (let’s certainly hope so!). Nonetheless, being appointed Community Journalist at our institute since last July has given me a very different perspective on our Ronin community and beyond as I am now jointly (with the amazing Alex Lancaster) responsible for internal and external communications and have learnt a great deal about our members and our scholarly activities. I do believe that there have been some positives which have sprung from our global crisis, and these may prove critical in shaping the new normal in our research-related fields and beyond.

First of all, working from home. This has been encouraged by nearly all governments in countries which have contracted COVID, and our home has become both abode and place for work. This has drawn mixed reaction, since while some welcome it as they like the idea of working from the comforts of their own home, many others have found work-life balance much harder to strike, especially those who have young children to take care of at home. This is certainly reflected in some of the conversations I have had with our members, and although I have full sympathy for their dilemma, I honestly do not have a solution to it. That said, of all the industries that have been affected by our global lockdown (which pretty much includes all of them), non-experimental research fields are probably the least affected, since unless one’s research requires one to conduct experiments under very specific conditions (like in a laboratory) or to go on field trips abroad, our lives as researchers have never been confined to a rigid routine, like the 9-5 office hours which govern large sectors of the working population. In the words of our President Jon Wilkins at one of our meetings, ‘research is a continuous process that does not just happen during one’s working hours’, and we researchers often have to work through the weekend and holidays, especially when we are hooked onto a particular research idea which may end up keeping us awake through day and night. The advantage of this research lifestyle is that everyday is a holiday, since there is no need to go to work, but the disadvantage is that everyday is a working day, since one is in effect working all the time by thinking about the same things over and over again.

Speaking as a scholar who does research in theoretical Linguistics (some of which I managed to present at a Ronin seminar last November for which I am eternally grateful to the organisers, namely Jon Wilkins, Arika Virapongse, Alex Lancaster and Varsha Dani), my work has pretty much gone on as usual, since, despite the strict lockdown in the UK where I am based, I have managed to supply myself with all the stationary and inventory I need for drawing formal representations, and my electronic devices have worked well enough for me to continue as usual in annotating linguistic structures and carrying out statistical analysis. Soliciting linguistic data from native speakers of foreign languages has been more of an ordeal, but our social media is so powerful that it is possible to get in touch with anyone who has access to the internet and has the relevant social media apps at his/her disposal (Whatsapp, WeChat, Microsoft Teams, Google Meetup, and, of course, Zoom, which has become the default application among all our professional circles). In my case, I have managed to consult speakers of foreign languages on Facebook, WeChat and via email on many linguistic details which I need for my research (and I thank them for their patience, generosity and willingness to address my queries). Collecting and measuring natural data is well-nigh impossible without access to special equipment or going on fieldtrips, but for those who, like me, conduct social scientific research, social distancing should not be an insurmountable problem, even if we may still prefer in-person communication. I hope that COVID has not caused too many obstacles to those who conduct practical research.

Continue reading Reflections on 2020: COVID, research, career and prospects

Ronin Public Seminar: Open Science, Culture Change, and You

This seminar is part of the Ronin Institute Public Seminar Series, featuring our Research Scholars. We welcome members of the public, but please register ahead of time to get the meeting link.

Presenter: Bruce Caron, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Date:  Jan 29, 2021
Time: 1:00-2:00 PM  US Eastern Time / 18:00-19:00 UTC (in your local time)
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Hosted by: John Paulas, Ronin Institute Research Scholar

Summary:
For open science to transform the academy, technology is not sufficient. Culture changes in hundreds (thousands) of academy organizations will need to be contemplated, discussed, argued, and implemented. But how do you, as a working scientist, become an open science culture change agent? Where do you start? What do you need to know? You already know that culture can work against your interests, and against the interests of scientific work (perverse incentives, etc.). How can you make culture work to nourish the new, transparent, open, generous, abundant, and kind outcomes that are the promise of open science.? Take a look at the Open Science Handbook.  It’s a reference work you can use to become an open science change agent in your department, laboratory, college, learned society, or research agency. The next step is to work together to build “play books” that capture the actual culture change experiments from organizations around the globe.  I’m looking for culture change agents who want to create collective intelligence around the work of culture change for open science!

Fun fact from Bruce: 
My database for this book has 3500 items with 24 million words.

Here is the recording of the seminar:


Questions about the seminar? Contact seminars@ronininstitute.org. See the list of past seminars, as well as some recordings on the Ronin Institute YouTube.