Back when I was a graduate student, and mentoring my very first undergraduate researcher, my advisor had this advice:
“Don’t forget to feed and water your undergraduate!”
It was meant as a humorous reminder that our role as research mentors is to help students develop the skills of a scientist. Our undergraduate students come to us, like seedlings, ready to absorb knowledge and grow into scientists with bench skills and critical thinking abilities. But it is up to us to provide assistance in learning the techniques, as well as guidance in developing the ways in which experiments are planned and results are analyzed.
Since that time, I have mentored many undergraduates both in labs and in classrooms. It is so rewarding to watch them develop as thinkers and scientists. I am very excited to have potentially three undergraduates working with me on various aspects of the Athlete’s Foot in Worms project this summer. I will do my best to remember to feed and water them.
This weekend my co-author and I sent in the final submission of our “PLoS Pearls” review article. The review is about dermatophyte virulence, and the “pearls” format encourages authors to focus on the essential questions in the field and to engage the non-specialist. I enjoy this type of writing, because I like sharing my work with a general audience. When I speak informally with friends about what I do, I often find that people have a personal connection to dermatophytes – either a friend or a family member that they know has had an experience with athlete’s foot, ringworm, or some other dermatophyte infection. I’m not surprised, since dermatophytes are predicted to infect up to 20% of the population! People in high-risk groups, such as runners and professional dancers, often impress me with their knowledge of dermatophytes. It is a nice reminder that research, even at a “basic” level, is connected to people’s everyday experiences, hobbies, and professions. So, I am excited to have a review “in the works” that will be accessible to anyone with an interest in these fungi.
I am also particularly fond of the PLoS journals as a whole because they are open access. Articles are published on-line and are free to everyone. Major universities often have library systems that purchase access to nearly all the journals researchers would need. The rest of us – scientists at smaller universities, less funded institutions, or non-scientists interested in learning more about a subject – can find it difficult to get access to articles. The university that I work at currently has limited library access to microbiology journals. They can purchase individual articles, but it takes time and often I am working right up to the deadline and do not wish to wait.
Open-access journals have been a huge help, and I credit the PLoS journals for being one of the first high-quality open-access journals. Their success provided a model for others to follow suit, and I for one hope that the trend of open-access journals continues. I believe that we all benefit when knowledge is available to everyone.