“Two roads diverged in a wood and I- I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference” – Robert Frost
Science, as a method of acquiring knowledge, not only enables advances that shape the course of human history, but molds the identity of individuals who join its pursuits. With logic, through curiosity, we pursue questions to understand the marvels of nature leading to evidence-based explanations and predictions. As we work to make sense of the unknown, we experience the difficulties of making decisions in high-stress environments, under the constant specter of uncertainty. Through our training, we become problem-solvers, innovators, technical experts, and skeptical pursuers of knowledge. However, the path to receive expertise in science, at any level, does not in itself confer us the training of a global technical leader.
SIU and the College of Science (CoS) programs are the forerunner of scientific training through undergraduate research. However, to be the model to which the world’s innovators aspire to be, explicit training in leadership is essential to take our scientific endeavors to a place unfathomable at other universities. For the science student, this begins with leading and holding oneself to a standard of excellence in professional conduct. Self-admittedly, science students can lack this training until applying for professional or graduate school, or entering the workforce. If we are unable to present ourselves as professionals, our nationally competitive research training amounts to null. Further, the demarcations that divide the scientific disciplines have been disintegrating. The emerging fields of bioinformatics, material science, nanotechnology, and quantum computing (to name a few) require diverse teams of experts to work in synchrony. Technical leaders, of which our fields have never known prior, are required to direct and support such teams. The traditional journey of becoming a technical expert in science is an arduous, yet a well-worn road. At SIU, we have prided ourselves on challenging that process and developing nationally recognized undergraduate researchers. How will the next generation of scientific leaders blaze new trails in their career preparation and enable their peers to follow suit?
I am excited to report that this answer is beginning to take form. Saluki Science Ambassadors (SSA) facilitated the forming of a Science Council of RSO’s to combine our efforts and resources to make the most impact within our community. At our last meeting, RSO representatives shared parts of their separate missions that inspired them to take on their leadership roles. We used that to come up with the following mission for the Science Council, ‘To promote collaboration, outreach, and awareness of the CoS and its affiliated RSOs’. SSA has also been revisiting its values and mission to help inform how our leaders want to expand our RSO and prepare to adapt to SIU’s restructuring. Moving forward, I hope to see leadership practices take hold in science RSO’s to impact the training of members and influence the scale and effectiveness of our service and outreach efforts. Long term, I wish to see these practices translated into research labs to revolutionize the breadth and depth to which science majors discover new knowledge; to the degree where they are recognized globally for their contributions to their disciplines.