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Mad Scientess Jane Expat

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Commencement 2005 [20050601|22:41]
Mad Scientess Jane Expat
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Controversy often surrounds the choice of commencement speaker at Caltech. This year's speaker, Sandra Tsing Loh, will be the first alumna ever to address the graduating class (BS in physics, 1983). The problem? She's not a practicing scientist. She has the audacity not to have even a peripheral involvement in science, as, for example, host to a TV science program for children or as an actor who's portrayed Richard Feynman in a documentary. No, instead she's a writer and a performance artist, a musician and a radio commentator with sharp wits and a social conscience. Apparently, some people feel this makes her an inappropriate example for the newly degreed from Caltech. It's an institute of technology, not the liberal arts, they cry, therefore, the speaker should have a connection to science, no matter how tenuous. Because clearly, acting in a movie about a physicist constitutes a stronger link to the scientific community than spending four years earning a degree in physics.

Isn't commencement meant to be a celebration of accomplishment and an exhortation to exercise potential? Every graduate must subsequently struggle to figure out how best to apply his or her talents outside the academy. Providing a graduate with an example of someone who's received the same training he has and has lived a fruitful life outside the realm of science shows him how much freedom and flexibility his abilities and intellect afford him. It's shameful that educators should espouse the view that only certain uses of a science education can be considered exemplary. The aim of all types of education should be to increase the choices available to students, not reduce them.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:38 (UTC)
Thank you.
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[User Picture]From: chibaraki
2005-06-02 06:05 (UTC)
From a completely surface perspective... well shit, she's probably a way better speaker than most practicing scientists, and isn't that what she's there for? To SPEAK? (If she was there to split atoms I'd be bothered, yes, but.)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:42 (UTC)
I agree, it's true that many scientists are less than stimulating when they speak (or do anything else, for that matter). However, I think her chosen profession(s) tip her chances of being a great commencement speaker because they require her to perform in public and appeal to a general audience frequently, not just because they're unrelated to science.
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From: tdj
2005-06-02 06:07 (UTC)
If she wants to really tick them off, she should wear this:



I'd be curious to hear how her training in physics served her outside of it.

I'm reminded of my advisor talking to another prof about a recent graduate. She said, "Oh...she's taking some time off and then going into industry." I heard, "She's dead to me now."
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:30 (UTC)
She should perform a one-act play instead of giving a speech. While wearing that outfit, of course.

I would assume that she ended up using the abilities she honed on solving scientific problems, such as concentrating for long periods of time, approaching new information skeptically and finding the most logical way to perform tasks. Oh, and time management. Creative non-science work requires just as much commitment and persistence as scientific research. At least, that's what I've found in my measly seven months off. It would be interesting to know if she still found her training relevant at all after 22 years.

Bet you also heard, "How dare she waste my time like that?"
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:13 (UTC)
I think of commencement ceremonies as rather like funerals. They're more for other people than the person who's graduated or, uh, died. My family wanted to go to mine, which is why I went. I don't recall the speakers being particularly interesting either, although when I got my Ph.D., I'd already been finished for nine months and was just looking forward to wearing the fancy hood.

Nobody know what she's going to say yet. Judging from her largely semi-autobiographical creative work, I imagine she'll speak about her personal experiences. Since she makes her living off her flamboyance, I imagine it'll be interesting. I'll be back in London during commencement, otherwise I'd definitely go.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:59 (UTC)
...Oh HO! So that's who you are. ;-)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 07:49 (UTC)
I don't think you said anything here, although you may have said something in person. Then again, it's highly probably that one or both of us were drunk at the time.
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[User Picture]From: bellelaqueen
2005-06-02 09:12 (UTC)
Here, here! I think Sandra Tsing Loh is a great example of 'outside the box' (which, really is what science is all about, no?)

There are many scientists who've graduated and never worked a day in a lab (look at writers for example) and letting graduating students know that there are other options can only be a good thing. Get nerds out of the labs and into society I say *l*

There are students in my degree program who thought working in a lab was the only option once they have their degree. Sad really.

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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 07:51 (UTC)
Idealistically speaking, science is about thinking outside the box. But in practice, particularly in experimental science, it's about not straying so far outside the box that you can't get funding.
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[User Picture]From: smallfurry
2005-06-02 16:47 (UTC)

Only a matter of time...

That second paragraph is good. Save it to use when you are giving the commencement speech.
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[User Picture]From: seismic
2005-06-02 23:32 (UTC)

Re: Only a matter of time...

Ditto that. Hell, earmark the whole thing to tell as an anecdote. =)
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:21 (UTC)
Ho ho. No chance. They may forgive someone who got a bachelor's degree for leaving science, but someone who went all the way through a post-doc and then left? According to Them, she belongs in purgatory. I, on the other hand, should be toasting my mitts in the ninth circle of hell.
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[User Picture]From: taische
2005-06-02 21:24 (UTC)
Hmph.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 00:14 (UTC)
Yes, I think the hand-wringers could use a good hmphing.
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[User Picture]From: taische
2005-06-03 03:48 (UTC)
It seems to work for bonobos.

No, wait... that's something else.

Never mind- that still works. Are they cute?
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 07:55 (UTC)
Are they cute?

Well, that depends on your standards.
.
.
.
Actually, it doesn't. No.
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[User Picture]From: becala
2005-06-03 15:35 (UTC)
Oy vey. We have controversy regarding our commencement speakers nearly every year, but that's because we have people like Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal as speakers. This year it's just Derrick Jensen. Not so controversial. Well, some people don't like him, but he wasn't convicted of kiling cops at least.
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[User Picture]From: nanila
2005-06-03 16:46 (UTC)
What, is he too pacifist for them or something? Sheesh.
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