As of August, I am an Assistant Professor of Biology at Reed College. In this series of blog posts, I will explain why I chose this environment as my academic landing pad (or launching pad).
Part 3: Reed is designed for conducting research in a liberal arts environment.
A friend and Reed alumnus once described her experience at Reed as “mini grad school.” One of the main reasons for this is the long-standing tradition of the senior thesis. The thesis, which must be approved by a committee of readers, is part of the requirements for graduation. It is also engrained in the student culture — the end of thesis writing is celebrated by ritualistically burning of a copy of the document. All theses are placed in the Library’s “thesis tower” for perusal by the public, becoming a permanent item in the Reed community.
As Reed faculty, we advise students on this year-long thesis writing endeavor. Part of our responsibility, as educators, is to think about new problems in our field that become thesis topics. In some departments, providing students with research experiences and opportunities goes hand-in-hand with academic scholarship. For example, in the Biology Department, student theses may fit into the professor’s larger vision of their research. I think this is echoed in the success of faculty all over campus at securing external funding – over $2.2 million in 2014/2015, a ten year historical record.
Conducting high-quality research is not an anomaly at liberal arts schools. Granted, it may take more time than at larger institutions, since training and teaching undergraduates is a much larger piece of the work. But the quality does not have to diminish. Recently, Biology professor Todd Schlenke published a paper in Science with Shelly Skolfield (class of 2014) and others. The work was a continuation of the senior thesis Shelly did with Todd in 2014.
I intend to continue my research projects with the help of Reed students – in fact, it is one of the reasons why I took the job. Advising senior theses will be a great way to kick off my research program.