A letter to my students

The last couple of days have been pretty tough for me, and maybe for some of you too. Some of you might be fearful about what the future may bring, both personally and professionally. I’m concerned that we’re going to see more attacks on science, discrediting of scientists themselves, and personal attacks on groups of people that have already been marginalized in this country. We’re bound to see some dark days ahead.

I want you all to know that I will do everything in my power to prevent any of that from happening. The Biology department will always be a safe space for discussion of scientific ideas and rationale debate.  Women, men, people of color, underrepresented groups, people of any religion, people of no religion, people of any sexual orientation, or really any human, should never be subject to intimidation, abuse, or made to feel uncomfortable in this environment. If you ever feel that way, please don’t hesitate to talk to me about it and I will do whatever I can to solve the problem. I’m here to be your ally and support you.
We live in the Age of Enlightenment, where we are meant to be ruled by reason, rather than emotion or belief. The last year has made me fear that we’re moving out of that age and back to a more regressive stage of society, where gut feelings and irrational thought matter more than reasoned debate. There’s never been a more important time for scientists in the world. We just witnessed a total failure of “scientific” polls, which were not based on solid facts or good modeling. Much of what these pollsters are doing is stuff that we’ve been covering in Biometry. No matter what grade you get in the class, I want you to be able to understand some of these basic methods and be able to reasonably separate fact from fiction. You are all scientists, whether or not that’s your career goal. Be an advocate for science. I need you. The country needs you. And the world needs you. When you hear misinformation or poor reasoning, correct it. When you see or hear injustice, correct it. When you see or hear prejudice, correct it. It’s not always easy to do, but sometimes we have to choose between what’s easy and what’s right. Choose what’s right. Everyday. In your all of your interactions. Be an advocate. And in return, I will always be an advocate for you…as a scientist, as a student, and as a person.
Finally, let’s all support each other and remember that a lot of good things happened in the United States yesterday. Four women of color were elected to the Senate, meaning that our government is closer to representing the composition of our country and more minority voices will be heard on the national stage. California passed a reasonably progressive slate of legislation, although there is still work to be done there too. As California continues to pass legislation that is intended to mediate climate change and support science, the rest of the country and the world have often followed suit. There is no place in this country that I’d rather live than in California. In an open email, our legislature wrote: “California has long set an example for other states to follow. And California will defend its people and our progress. We are not going to allow one election to reverse generations of progress at the height of our historic diversity, scientific advancement, economic output, and sense of global responsibility.”
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light”
     -Albus Dumbledore
Be good y’all.
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