Sunday, September 30, 2012

A refreshing take on research

I am a 4th year PhD student studying conflict and reconciliation in both humans and chimpanzees. Two of the things that I am most interested in are how conflict resolution behaviors are similar/different in humans and other species, and what motivates social animals (in general) to reconcile. At a recent Think Elephants presentation to a group of middleschoolers at East Side Middle School (ESMS, MS114), I asked the latter question.

I pressed the students to think about why we might be motivated to reconcile with social partners following a conflict. Within seconds, a rather unabashed student raised his hand and answered something along the lines of: “We reconcile because we want something from someone and we can’t get it otherwise.”

I have asked this same question countless times, to rooms full of academics and other working professionals. I can easily say that I have never received a more candid response. No advisor, mentor, or fellow graduate student has ever dared expose themselves in such a shameless way in a room full of others. This student’s reply not only impressed me, but it also set me down a new path of research ideas—namely on leverage, resource dynamics, and reconciliation.

This is one of the ways that I believe the Think Elephants experience can be mutually beneficial to all parties involved. It presents a unique opportunity for researchers, teachers, and students to bounce ideas off of one other. The possibility for this type of collaboration was apparent during the program’s incipient stages. I was in the beginning of my graduate studies when Josh Plotnik approached me about Think Elephants International. Over coffee one day, we discussed the need to bring these disparate parties together; after all, we all have a curiosity for animal life, why not unite both children and adults in a single forum for ideas?

That is what Think Elephants represents. A forum for collaboration between young and old, people new to scientific fields and resident experts, parents and teachers. It is an opportunity to connect these parties both locally and globally, and to share ideas in a way that was never before possible. I have spoken to numerous researchers involved in the program, and they agree that the goals of TEI are consistent with the general direction that most science and research is headed in. That is, towards a more interdisciplinary, creative, and globally collaborative enterprise.

The Think Elephants enterprise has so far been what I would call a highly refreshing experience. Technology has enhanced our ability to connect, which has been refreshing in balance with the human efforts involved in forging those connections. It is nice to have so many active parents and devoted teachers enthusiastically support our endeavors.

Further, as a graduate student, it is easy to get stuck in your own world of ideas. It is inspiring to be a part of an organization like TEI to share those ideas and begin listening to others’. Whether it’s a refreshingly honest student comment or an insight from a teacher, there is always something to be learned.

Finally, it is exciting that research might ultimately become more accessible to younger age groups as well as to under-represented minorities in science (e.g. girls, lower-income communities). The most refreshing thing is to see so many different people, all over the world, working together to make this happen.

Christine Webb
Coordinator of Special Projects

No comments:

Post a Comment