Fwd: Re: FW: [Ifeffit] Undergraduates and EXAFS

Scott Calvin SCalvin at slc.edu
Sun Jul 2 21:05:58 CDT 2006

Thanks for the references, Anatoly!

And, what the heck, I might as well give my opinion on the general topic.

While the referee's argument is understandable, I think there are few 
"physics" fields in which undergrads can make greater contributions 
than in the characterization of materials using EXAFS. I think that 
to be good at using EXAFS, a researcher must have very strong general 
research skills. For example, they have to be able to read the 
literature, communicate in both directions with those in other fields 
(e.g., chemists), visualize, be able to distinguish real effects from 
noise, be able to devise tests to establish the cause of observed 
effects, etc.. The technique itself requires a substantial learning 
curve; 80 hours seems about right to be able to =begin= to use it 
productively. But not a lot of specific Ph.D., or even advanced 
undergraduate, material is required. How could it be? Although a lot 
of EXAFS experts were trained in physics, we're seeing more who come 
out of a variety of disparate fields. And you, Bruce, and others have 
offered EXAFS short courses for years.

So this makes it perfect for a talented undergraduate. Undergraduate 
interns have the time to spare for that 80-hour learning curve; that 
only takes the first two weeks of a summer internship. And there's no 
reason that the best of them shouldn't have better general research 
skills than a mediocre graduate student.

And that's what I've found. The average quality of work does depend 
on the level of the student in the expected way: high school < 
undergrad < masters < Ph.D.. But the variation within groups is 
considerably greater than the variation between groups. In fact, the 
best member of my research group I ever had, the one who did the most 
sophisticated work, was a high school student!

That's my two cents, anyway. :)

--Scott Calvin
Sarah Lawrence College

>In short, the referee's argument is of course strong one, but a good 
>planning of undergraduate research can help make use of undergrads. 
>Since these are EXAFS papers, you can definitely use them to support 
>your claim that EXAFS research can be done with undergrads. We have 
>several professors at YU who publish their research, not EXAFS 
>related, with undergraduates in top journals.

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