Tuesday, August 5, 2014

PhD justification

Ever since I started working here at the University of Sydney School of Physics in 2011, I have wanted to contribute to my field. I replaced a guy who has a PhD, almost every office I walk past has at least 1 PhD in it, perhaps a few. I'm surrounded by people who's job it is to ask questions. Change one thing, then measure another. Predict, Observe, Explain, etc. I want to do that too! I don't just want to talk about what they do, I want to do it as well. To be able to talk to students, communicate science, with first hand experience.

My field is science communication and education, I have a teaching degree (...mostly) I have been a teacher and for over a decade I've been in the game of learning science and science communication. On arrival, I instantly wanted to become a part of the SUPER group (Sydney University Physics Education Research group). Almost directly after that I was asked to justify the program I run called Kickstart on a number of different metrics, some harder than others to measure.

We say things like, "Kickstart is one of the most successful flagship outreach program of its kind"...How do we know. What are students actually getting out of it? What do they learn, do they like it, Is it good for them, or the teachers?

After a bit of reading and discussing, (some of which I hope to include here later) I came up with the three E's for evaluating Kickstart. This has turned out to be sort of the basis of my projects leading to wards a PhD.

The three E's:

  • Engagement - public awareness of science (PAS)
  • Education - public understanding of science (PUS)
  • Enrolment - public involvement in science (PIS)

Engagement seems to be fairly well understood (I can tell you that students will like the kickstart program! They'll have warm-fuzzy feelings about physics after they leave the lab). Enrolment is very hard to measure, I've tried with a few surveys, (again, I'll write about these later). The second E, Education, is where I start!

My justification for starting a research project such as this is to attempt at asking the questions about Kickstart that most people assume have been asked. Education fits very well into the SUPER group, being Physics education research.