Category Archives: Faculty

Open Access Month – OA to Spur Innovation

October is Open Access Month. Throughout the month, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open access to research, scholarship and innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

This installment provided by Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk,Postdoctoral Research Associate, Department of Anthropology.

A need for open access to research materials to spur new discoveries in biological anthropology

Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk.
Dr. Maryjka B. Blaszczyk.

A major aim of research in biological anthropology is to understand how humans have ended up looking and behaving the way that they do. To understand the evolution of our body form, anthropologists look at fossils. Behavior, however, does not fossilize, and so we turn to studying our closest living relatives, the nonhuman primates, preferably in their natural habitats where they have to deal with selective pressures such as avoiding predators and finding enough food to eat. Primate behavior field data are hard-won, involving substantial investments of time and resources. Apart from jumping through logistical hoops such as obtaining permits and building relationships with local stakeholders in far-flung locales, establishing a new field site for behavioral fieldwork involves months if not years of patiently following wild primates around to habituate them to researchers’ presence. Once habituated, data collection begins, with blood, sweat, and tears invariably spilt as one accumulates precious hours of detailed behavioral observations on this group of primates at this place and particular time.

These investments are one reason given by field primatologists as justification for closely guarding their data. Another is the unique insights they have into the lives of their study animals, having spent hours upon hours of observation time with them. Some primatologists argue that researchers not familiar with their study site and animals may misuse the data if they were to make it widely available, subjecting it to improper analyses or not accounting for information about the study site/animals that is known only to researchers who have worked there. Researchers also generally have many ideas for secondary analyses of their data that they plan to get to in the future.

Each of these arguments is by no means specific to primate behavioral ecology, with very similar arguments having been made, for example, by medical researchers working with clinical trial data. Of course, clinical trial data has a substantially higher status (given its applications for human health and welfare) than primate behavior data, and arguments about the costs and benefits of trial data sharing have been ongoing in high profile forums for several years. Data sharing advocates point to benefits such as new discoveries, better metanalyses, and correction or confirmation of findings in the scientific record, which they argue far outweigh potential risks such as incorrect analyses or data misuse. We all know researchers who have been sitting on data for years (even decades) with plans for secondary analyses, many of which they will never find the time to conduct and publish. In the case of primate field data collected on a specific population at a specific place and point in time – and frequently on endangered primates living in rapidly changing habitats – these data cannot be reproduced, so it is a double shame that they may never make it into the scientific record.

Primate behavioral ecologists are included in Anthropology departments because comparative studies on primate behavior illuminate the ways in which humans differ from and are similar to our closest kin, allowing us to better understand the evolutionary ecology of our lineage.  However, many comparative studies are hampered by poor descriptions of how data in primate field studies were collected and processed, and many large-scale comparative studies cannot be undertaken unless raw data itself is made available. Behavioral ecologists should take a page out of their molecular primatology colleagues’ playbooks, where publication of genetic data alongside scientific articles is the rule. This type of data sharing has enabled large-scale comparative phylogenetic studies that have given us a rich understanding of primate evolution. It is time for primate behavioral ecologists to catch up and to make sharing of data as well as associated behavioral and ecological data collection protocols the norm. Who knows what insights await us.

Open Access Month – Open Educational Resources in Biology

October is Open Access Month. Throughout the month, guest contributors will present their perspectives on the value of open access to research, scholarship and innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.

This installment provided by Sata Sathasivan, Senior Lecturer, Biology Instructional Office.

K.Sata Sathasivan.

I have been using open educational resources (OER) in biology as supplemental instructional sources for many years. These included animations, videos, simulations and public databases of DNA and protein. These resources are constantly evolving and they complement well with any level of teaching.

Recently, I started using a biology textbook published by Open Stax based at Rice University for my introductory biology classes successfully. While a publisher’s popular textbook may cost the students up to $250 each semester, OpenStax textbooks are free to download a PDF and have a nominal cost ($40) for printed versions. Several students liked this free textbook and I received only a few complaints about the inadequacies of this textbook to explain a particular concept. Overall, it was well received by the students and they found this very helpful.

This free textbook can be supplemented with other open educational resources that can be found online in various sites such as https://www.oercommons.org, and if you want to explore more OER sites, check this site.

The only concern that I have about OERs is the time it takes to check them for quality and consistency with your teaching, and the time involved in making the structure for them to be seamlessly integrated into the course.

Nobel Laureate in the Stacks

Steven WeinbergProfessor Steven Weinberg is the university’s Nobel Laureate in Physics (1979) whose work in elementary particle physics and cosmology has garnered important scientific awards and honorary acclaim. He has published more than 300 scientific articles and scholarly monographs, and he is a leader in his area of theoretical physics. Dr. Weinberg coined the term Standard Model to describe the theory of fundamental particles and their interactions.

Weinberg’s research articles deal with highly abstract and mathematical topics such as “Goldstone Bosons as Fractional Cosmic Neutrinos” or “Quantum mechanics without state vectors.” But Weinberg also writes for non-specialists, including frequent contributions to the New York Review of Books and numerous books on the history and culture of science. He is widely interviewed and his opinions are sought on topics such as religion and world issues as those relate to science.

As a librarian I’m interested to know more about his research process for his historical and cultural materials, which are not the usual realm of a Nobel physicist. His most recent book, To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science (Harper Collins 2015), discusses the development of physical science beginning with the ancient Greeks at Melitus sweeping through medieval science and the scientific revolution until the modern discipline of science emerged.

As a self-described perpetual amateur Dr. Weinberg is intellectually restless. When he wants to explore a topic, he teaches a course on it over several semesters, does extensive research to develop lectures and teaching materials, and eventually writes a book on the topic. In approaching an unfamiliar area he starts with older books, not necessarily the latest information. As the research develops he moves forward to the current professional literature. If the existing writings on a topic do not appeal to his sensibilities he writes material that presents content in a way that makes sense and ‘explains the world’ for him and his students.

For example, a new physics course for the Spring, 2016 is his current project. It will be a graduate course in astrophysics — a more “down-to-earth” variety of astrophysics. He is learning about stellar structure and galactic structures by reading older books — going back to the 1930’s and catching up eventually to current research articles.  Perhaps another book will result from his investigations.
Dr. Weinberg uses libraries well and often — what we term an excellent library user. The ability to browse is of paramount importance to him. In speaking to the local public library foundation, he stated that there is no substitute for being able to browse, and was surprised by the standing ovation that followed. Like most particle physicists, he gets a daily feed from the arXiv e-print server, and uses the research literature online, but prints what he needs to read.

We’re curious about what’s on his current reading list. Weinberg is re-reading Anthony Trollope’s The Warden, and reading Jonathan Schneer’s book about Churchill’s war cabinet, Ministers at War.  Preparing for a spring course on astrophysics, he is also looking into Cox and Giuli’s Principles of Stellar Structure, borrowed from the library.

Why does Dr. Weinberg write for non-physicists? He answers in Steven Weinberg: the 13 best science books for the general reader:

“…I think it was EM Forster who said that he wrote to earn the respect of those he respects, and to earn his bread. As to bread, I used to do a good deal of consulting on defence problems, until I learned that writing books was in every way more rewarding, and since it did not involve handling classified materials, I could do it at home. More important has been the opportunity of leaving for a while the ivory tower of theoretical physics research, and making contact with the world outside.”

Steven Weinberg is the featured speaker at this year’s Distinguished Author Dinner hosted by the Libraries for its generous supporters. To contribute to the Libraries and received access to future events such as this, visit our online giving page

 

Showcasing the Hamilton Book Award Winners

Authors, left to right: Allison Lowery, Dr. Desmond Lawler, Dr. Huaiyin Li, and grand-prize winner Dr. Denise Spellberg.
Authors, left to right: Allison Lowery, Dr. Desmond Lawler, Dr. Huaiyin Li, and grand-prize winner Dr. Denise Spellberg.

Doing research in a library can be an adventure in serendipitous discovery. For Dr. Denise Spellberg, Professor of History at the University of Texas at Austin, an unexpected search result was the impetus for a research project that resulted in her acclaimed book, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.

Dr. Denise Spellberg sharing the details of how her award-winning work began.
Dr. Denise Spellberg sharing the details of how her award-winning work began.

Dr. Spellberg shared this recollection—along with other fascinating insights from her research—at the Hamilton Book Awards Author Showcase and Reception, which was held at the Perry-Castañeda Library last Friday. Dr. Spellberg’s book was the 2014 grand-prize winner of the Robert W. Hamilton Book Award.

Dr. Spellberg was joined by three of the runner-up prize-winners, whose work was also honored at the 2014 award ceremony: Dr. Desmond Lawler of the Department of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering (for Water Quality Engineering: Physical/Chemical Treatment Processes, which he co-authored with Mark Benjamin); Dr. Huaiyin Li of the Departments of History and Asian Studies (for Reinventing Modern China: Imagination and Authenticity in Chinese Historical Writing); and Ms. Allison Lowery, from the Texas Performing Arts Center and the Department of Theatre and Dance (for Historical Wig Styling: Volumes 1 and 2).

Dr. Lorraine Haricombe, UT Libraries Vice Provost and Director.
Dr. Lorraine Haricombe, UT Libraries Vice Provost and Director.

With presentations nearly as diverse as the PCL’s collection, each faculty author gave the audience an introduction to the themes and motivations that define and drive their research. Both Dr. Lawler and Ms. Lowery spoke of their passion—for clean water and the craft of wig creation, respectively—while Dr. Li described how his experiences in China and the United States allowed him to analyze modern Chinese historical writing. Dr. Spellberg recounted how the discovery of playbill from a 1782 performance of Voltaire’s Mahomet in Baltimore led her to research the role of Islam in early American history.

George Mitchell, president and CEO of the University Co-op.
George Mitchell, president and CEO of the University Co-op.

The University Co-op has sponsored the Hamilton Book Awards since 1997. Winners are determined by a multidisciplinary committee appointed by the Vice President for Research at UT Austin, and the prize is awarded each October. The Hamilton Book Awards Author Showcase and Reception is an extension of the partnership effort by the Co-op and University of Texas Libraries to foster and promote faculty research on campus.

This well-received inaugural Showcase and Reception event was planned by School of Information graduate student and Ask a Librarian intern Katherine Kapsidelis, who graduates this May.

The Copier as Canvas

 Study Group zine cover

“Zines are not a new idea. They have been around under different names (ChapBooks, Pamphlets, Flyers). People with independent ideas have been getting their word out since there were printing presses.” ― Mark Todd, Whatcha Mean, What’s a Zine?

As institutions traditionally charged with gathering and providing access to the broadest range of information, libraries have in large part transitioned their focus from the physical to the digital realm of resources. But there are pockets of attention that remain fixed on collecting those materials that hold significantly greater value in a corporeal state.

Laura Schwartz shares zines with an studio art class.In 2010, Fine Arts Library (FAL) Head Librarian Laura Schwartz joined a fledgling movement of librarians across the country in establishing a collection of DIY pamphlets, popularly known as “zines.”

Zines — short for “fanzines” — take a variety of forms, but are generally self-published and noncommercial, homemade or online publications often devoted to specialized or unconventional subject matter. Traditionally, zines have been published in small runs — less than 1000 copies — and most are produced on photocopiers or by other, more economical means.

At a time when virtually anyone with access to the web can reach an audience, the idea that your local Kinko’s still has the patronage of a subculture of the most indie of independent publishers seems almost absurd.

And yet, the niche market continues to thrive, and has even seen a degree of proliferation, especially in the area of social justice, an association which would no doubt have pleased Thomas Paine.

Schwartz is determined about her motivation to build the collection. “This is a form of art,” she says. “Museums or galleries do not typically collect this format, so it is incumbent upon libraries to do so.”

“Libraries have a history of collecting ephemeral and personal materials,” says Schwartz. “That is the essence of archives.  Libraries are capturing a slice of history and culture of a particular time period by collecting zines.”

Thing Bad zine coverThe FAL’s zine collection currently maintains over 200 items of state, regional and national origin, and recent donations will potentially double the size of the resource. The content of the materials covers a range of subjects including art, photography, music, skateboarding and Texas culture.

Schwartz was fortunate at the time of the collection’s inception to have a ready resource for development in the form of the manager of a specialized local bookstore, Russell Etchen of Domy Books. Being an artist and autodidact in zine history — as well as a curator/manager for the shop/gallery —  Etchen had an informed perspective on the significance of the genre, and offered his insights as a service to preserving the form.

“Laura had an innate sense for what would and wouldn’t work when she started building the collection,” says Etchen. “We would walk through the store together a couple times a year, and I would share the works that I felt, at the time, were most deserving of preservation.”

“When it comes to the underground, there are no ‘right zines’,” says Etchen. “There is a very decentralized history behind self-publishing and generally we chose works that I felt had a unique history behind them or ahead of them.” Continue reading

Distinguished Author Dinner Recap

Earlier this month, the Libraries hosted a Pulitzer Prize finalist for its third annual Distinguished Author Dinner.

Jacqueline Jones — who has earned accolades for her book A Dreadful Deceit: The Myth of Race from the Colonial Era to Obama’s America, — spent the evening before a rapt full house of University of Texas Libraries supporters discussing her ideas on race as a social construct.

“The effects of this fiction have been devastating throughout history,” Jones recently told The Daily Texan. “The idea here is that this myth or idea has been a very powerful one in justifying the exploitation of [people of] African descent and other people as well.”

The thought-provoking talk provided attendees with ample fodder for discussion after Jones exited the dais.

Jones is Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History at the University of Texas at Austin. She’s also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the Bancroft Prize for American History, among many other awards and distinctions. She’s author of Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow (Basic Books, 1985) and Saving Savannah: The City and the Civil War (Vintage, 2009).

The Distinguished Author Dinner is an invitation-only event to acknowledge and thank major donors, advisory council members and friends for their support and interest in the Libraries.

In addition, it provides an opportunity to reinforce the Libraries role in teaching, learning and research, and to promote the outstanding research of world-class faculty on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin.

Past events have featured Hamilton Book Award winner for Scripting Jesus: The Gospels in Rewrite Dr. L. Michael White, and acclaimed author, library advocate and Texas favorite, Sarah Bird.

To become a Libraries donor and receive invitations to events like this one, please visit our online giving page.

Science for Lovers

Ask Dr. Loving

Love is in the air for the spring’s entrée edition of Science Study Break.

Dr. Timothy Loving of the School of Ecology’s Department of Human Development and Family Sciences observes the ups and downs of relationships in a special Valentine’s presentation of our ongoing series at the intersection of science and pop culture.

Loving will use scenes from (500) Days of Summer, Moonrise Kingdom, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Crazy, Stupid, Love, among others, to explore the dynamics of romance.

Loving’s research focuses on the relationship support process, with an emphasis on investigating the reasons for — and consequences of — romantically-involved individuals’ conversations with friends and family about the romantic relationship.

The free event takes place in the Student Activity Center Auditorium (SAC 1.402) at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, February 12, 2013. Free pizza (while it lasts) for attendees.

Science Study Break is hosted by the University of Texas Libraries and supported by the University Federal Credit Union.

Who Are You?

 

Pennebaker on pronouns

The Libraries wraps its successful first semester run of the lunchtime Research + Pizza talk series with noted author, professor and chair of the Department of Psychology James Pennebaker speaking about how the words we use can expose hidden meanings about our feelings, intentions and personality traits.

Pennebaker’s latest book The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us hones in on the words that he calls “keys to the soul,” and what the most routine of descriptors of self reveal about our state of mind.

The talk takes place at noon on Wednesday, November 2 in the Perry-Castañeda Library, room 2.500.

Free Pizza (while it lasts) generously provided by program supporter Austin’s Pizza.

Libraries Program Feeds Mind and Body

The University of Texas Libraries is launching a lunchtime lecture series featuring research presentations by faculty from across the university.

“Research + Pizza” will begin its monthly run at noon on Friday, September 2, in the University Federal Credit Union Student Learning Commons with speaker Dr. Raj Raghunathan – UT Marketing professor and blogger for Psychology Today – speaking about willpower, success and happiness, as the semester gets underway and students navigate their transition to college life.

The program will take place monthly with faculty presenting informal talks about their research followed by questions and discussion.

Pizza is generously provided – while it lasts – to attendees by sponsor Austin’s Pizza.

Presentations at “Research + Pizza” will be recorded for podcast and are free and open to the public.

For more information, visit the Research + Pizza website.

 

Science Study Break, Now With More Na’vi

The Life Science Library’s Science Study Break program will wrap up its season on Wednesday (4/13) with an examination of James Cameron’s most recent blockbuster Avatar.

Dr. Misha Matz of the School of Biological Sciences will analyze biological fact and fiction in the fantastic world of the film.

The program will be at 6 p.m. in Garrison Hall, Room 0.102. It is free and open to the public.

Pop culture and the academy collide as Science Study Break features relevant faculty and experts from The University of Texas at Austin discussing the reality and fantasy portrayed as fact in science-themed books, television and film. Past presentations have featured presentations on bioterrorism and its treatment in the Fox thriller 24, artificial intelligence gone wild in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the comic realities of Spider-Man and epidemiological models for the proliferation of zombies.

Science Study Break occurs twice each semester and is generously supported by the University Federal Credit Union.

UPDATE: You can view Matz’s Avatar presentation on the university’s YouTube channel. Thanks, Misha.