All posts by terencehebert

I m a professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics at McGill University.

The value of a liberal arts education

Postmodernism debunked- “As debunkers, they contribute to a cultural climate that has little tolerance for finding or making meaning”! It’s not enough to simply be critical. Achieving consensus is just as important in my opinion. Here is a good article describing what we lose when we teach our students to equate intelligence with criticism. Some of my colleagues think a year of Liberal Arts should be mandatory for every student! I don’t think this is a bad idea!

More advice for students!

I don’t agree with all of what is written in the attached article. My students are hard working, diligent and committed. The technical possibilities for experiments that can be done has literally exploded since I began my own graduate training and although a lot of these experiments involve “kits”, a lot require careful design, good knowledge of many techniques and a broad reading of the literature. The description of that older generation o student certainly applies to me I have to admit- I worked like a dog during my PhD and read everything as it appeared in print in the library- which for a large part of my training was right next to my lab! We also dump more material on students in lectures than we used to- with PowerPoint and web links etc. so I give them a break there too. All that said, the stuff about professionalism is good advice- if you want to get into grad school or get a job- understand your target… read their papers, and be thoughtful in how you approach us. Also, learn to write… it will open more doors than any article in high impact journals ever will…

The new reality of the public intellectual

I think we need to engage the public better as academics. Maybe the reason the Quebéc government doesn’t fund education is partly due to this disengagement. Maybe the inability to sustain research funding from the federal government is too. However, it is not as easy as it once was. I used to think that people have become consumed with consumerism and such and don’t feel they have the time to build a great society. That they disengaged from us. However, like many of my notions, this one is wrong- or at least highly oversimplified. Now I think it is more difficult for many public intellectuals to engage simply because they are wondering how to support their families and see that as more important than engaging the public. Tenure protects me in that sense but how long will tenure last? Here is an interesting piece I read this morning. It came to me through my Twitter feed. I learn more because of Twitter than I ever would have thought possible!

Another painful admission…

Here it is- I agree with Margaret Wente. That really hurts! We talk at McGill about how much we value teaching. I don’t see it- everyone’s research is more important- to them and to the university.  Research is used an an excuse to avoid teaching. When I worked at a hospital research center, this made sense. Not here… professors teach- end of story in my opinion.

What do we lose with MOOCs?

I am not a Luddite. There, I said it. By the same token, I don’t have a sense of what McGill is after with its entry into the world of massively open online courses (MOOCs). I imagine because it is like me with my smart phone- I got one because I don’t want to be left behind and face my old age lost in technologies I can’t use and don’t understand. However, in the case of MOOCs, my gut tells me if we become too reliant on these trends, we will lose the core of what a university is.  We will lose direct contact with students- which should be the heart of the enterprise. Here is something I saw regarding this on the weekend (yes while following Facebook and Twitter)…

Disconnect between reality and marketing?

Great article in Le Devoir this weekend about the enormous disconnect between how research functions in reality and how universities define and measure success. When universities use rankings to define “success” they misvalue the potential and future impact of the work done. Using business terms and market (and marketing) logic which cannot predict or immediately profit from pace or direction of current research they do everyone a disservice. Maybe they wouldn’t have to do this if governments, citizens and students recognized the true value and real costs of education and research.

« Or le Nobel est accordé en moyenne 25 ans après la découverte qu’il récompense. Il est donc complètement absurde d’utiliser un tel critère pour mesurer la qualité actuelle d’une université », fait remarquer Yves Gingras qui, dans son livre, donne l’exemple d’Albert Einstein, qui était associé à l’Université de Berlin quand il a reçu son prix Nobel en 1922.

Social media and academic censorship in the USA

By Terry Hébert, Pharmacology & Therapeutics

I hope I never have to tweet or post to my Facebook page anonymously… although in the “big data” universe there is no longer anything like anonymity since all this is likely scooped up for later use by someone. But I digress. These articles from Slate and New Economics Perspectives are focused on academic freedom and how universities need to step up and protect it. We are not corporations (at least not yet) and we are not motivated by profit. Within the bounds of decorum and personal respect- we should be allowed to say what we want even if it speaks truth to power… especially if it speaks truth to power.