In August 2017, the Department of Defense Basic Research Office hosted their first-ever Science, Technology & Innovation Exchange (STIx). This event which brought together speakers to address three major topics:

  1. The big question that my research seeks to answer
  2. The big question that my technology addresses
  3. The big question of identifying, nurturing, recruiting, and/or retaining top STEM talent

Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Raychelle Burks was invited to speak on topic #3. She spoke about how she integrated to federally funding programs – one by the National Science Foundation and another by the U.S. Army – to recruit, train, and retain students to her research group. Her talk can be viewed in its entirety below and other STIx talks can be found here.

Do you have science & pop culture on the brain?

Launching next month is SciPop Talks!, a speaker series that explores topics at the intersection of science and pop culture. Think Wonder Woman and The Chemists’ War, comic book physics, or why is bacon so popular. Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Raychelle Burks, who co-created SciPop Talks! at University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) while a postdoctoral scholar, is hoping these Science Cafe style events will attract a diverse crowd of pop culture and science fans. SciPop Talks! program will be a collaboration with the Munday Library, who will host the talks and offer a multi-media content that supports each talk’s content. Talks are aimed toward a general audience, being 20-30 minutes in length, with Q&A to follow. Like a movie night, snacks will be provided!

The Hilltop’s SciPop Talks! will kick-off on October 4th with Dr. Michael Saclolo (Mathematics) shedding light on Euler’s Method, brought into the mainstream with the success of the book and movie Hidden Figures. Our October 11th talk will trigger your Spidey sense, with Dr. Matthew Steffenson (biology) talking Spider-Man science. Biology’s Emily Hooser Hartman’s will tackle the Harry Potter and the Transfiguration Problem on October 18th. Winter is coming to the Hilltop on October 25th when Dr. Burks talks The Song of Ice and Fire and Chemistry. All talks will start at 7pm in Munday Library room 141.

We hope to see all pop culture and science fans there!

Hilltop chemist has a cool job

For the 2016 World Science Festival (WSF), I was invited to share why being a chemist and chemistry educator is a cool job alongside forensic anthropologist Angelique Corthals, engineer Erick Ordoñez, and technologist Rachel Rothman. Cool Jobs is a WSF event aimed at inspiring future scientists and the 2016 event hosted approximately 500 attendees – mostly families with young children. Below is a recording of this Cool Jobs event, where I got to kick-off the show by sharing what got me into science, cracking The Great Cookie Mystery, and debunking the Death Star!


Basecamp for Teachers

Basecamp is an online team and project management tool, similar to Slack. Both Basecamp and Slack are popular with big and small entities (business, non-profits, schools, etc.) , allowing various modes of communication, task assignment, and file sharing, with each having good mobile apps. C&EN, the official magazine of the American Chemical Society, covered How Slack-ing helps chemists manage their labs. I used Basecamp this summer to to manage my research group’s communication and activities. It was a hit with students and I loved it too!

I set up a Basecamp account and created a basecamp called ‘Burks Lab’ and invited by summer students to join. This basecamp’s home page is below.

basecamp loading page

Each basecamp features a Campfire (instant chat), The Messages Board (longer living announcements), To-Dos (task assignments), Docs & Files, Schedules, Pings (private messages), Automatic Questions (of your choosing, e.g. “What did you do today?”), and a variety of Reports. As administer of the basecamp, I can set-up a variety of campfires and to-do lists by project and/or team. Both myself and students can post messages, chat in campfires, comment on assignments, examine our individual reports or schedules.   My favorite feature is To-Dos for two reasons – it keep both me and the students on-point.

For me, it required that I clearly articulate each task in writing, which forced me to consider each task more deeply then when I simply rattle off “blah blah, then do blah blah and let me know.” Each task is assigned to a user (or more!) and has a due date. The assigned user checks off the task when complete and I get a notification. I review the work, providing feedback as a comment to the To-Do. If more work needed to be done, I would uncheck the assignment and it would go back into the To-Do queue. Each To-do offers me and the student opportunities to communicate extensively about a particular task. They could comment with questions regarding the assignment and to share preliminary results (with attachments). Often, students would suggest additional assignment components.

What about off-the-cuff conversations in the lab or my office that led to a new task or modification of a task? I would summarize and create a new To-Do or edit an existing one. I think using Basecamp in this fashion enhanced task management and team communication. Student liked checking off tasks, getting ‘Applause’ from me on their comments, and see the list of “To-Dones” grow. In Basecamp, students can quickly see what’s on their individual To-Do lists and run reports to see what they’ve done or have on deck. This proved helpful in writing up their weekly reports for Dr. Kopec, in addition to managing their time. Below is an example of Basecamp’s ‘What has someone been up to?” report.

basecamp report

These reports also helped me keep a day-by-day record of team activities, as well as more “big picture” project progression. This is critical for reporting to funding agencies and other entities. Basecamp allows me to manage my team and generate documentation concurrently – a chemist’s dream!

Let’s talk turkey – what does it cost? Absolutely nothing. Teachers get Basecamp for free and teachers get unlimited basecamps. For instance, I can maintain my Burks Lab basecamp and add one for upper division class I am teaching. This program does have limits…

“…can only be used for your classroom work. It can’t be used for personal, professional, or for-profit projects outside of the classroom. We’re on the honor system here, but if we do discover abuses we reserve the right to revoke the account or remove the free status.” (see Teachers get Basecamp for free)

If I wanted to set up a basecamp for working on a grant or paper with colleagues, we’d all have to enroll in a class. I joke! Or do I?