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Saturday, March 17, 2018

What is So Special About Being a Scientist?

What is so special about being a scientist?
The answer is – NOTHING!
In this short piece “What does it mean to be smart?” I wrote: “No one is born smart. But EVERYONE is born POTENTIALLY smart. Healthy infants (99 % of population) may have slight deviations in the potential of smartness, but the actual level of being smart mostly depends on one and one thing only – LUCK (when and where one was born, parents, friends, teachers).”
When people ask me what I do and I say that I teach physics, they often say something like “You are probably very smart”, and I say “I just got lucky”.
There is a general public perception that to become a scientist one has to be born a scientist.
This perception is absolutely wrong.
Our skills and knowledge is the result of our training. Our training is the result of the culture we grew up in. There are no Mowglis. If baby Einstein was left in jungles and raised by monkeys he would become a monkey - a very smart one, but still a monkey. 
Human Albert Einstein was smart - no doubts about that. But what made him stand out from the crowd was not his technical skills - in fact, for several fundamental research papers he used help with doing math.  What made him stand out from the crowd was his infinite curiosity and unparalleled imagination (two qualities which contemporary scientific world  - which looks today much more like an industrial complex than a hundred years ago - values much less than advanced technical skills, e.g. "How much of the NSF fundamental research in education is really fundamental?").
The majority of scientist I have met during the last 20-ish years have been born in a nice family, surrounded by nice culture, attended nice schools with nice teachers, and as the result, had a good background for attending a college. They did not struggle, they did not have to overcome challenges, they just were following the road which had led them straight to where they are now.
Doing science requires one skill, the same skill which is required for digging trenches – consistency. Even with a small spoon one can dig a large tunnel, if the one is patient enough to do it for a long time.
Someone might ask, why then so many students struggle when taking science courses?
Middle and high school students struggle due to only one reason – they have a bad science teacher (bad luck). College and university students may struggle because they don’t have sufficient background (because they didn’t have good science teachers), or the teaching faculty is not good at teaching.
Both problems (the quality of school education and the quality of college education) are solvable. Unfortunately, too many officials formally responsible for solving those problems spend too much time on speaking about solving those problems and too little time on actually solving them (e.g. “Education reform needs a new paradigm”; “Three myths of higher education”).
Ninety nine percent of scientists are no different from people from any other professions – all they do is walk, and as long as they move their legs they propel themselves ahead – like everybody else. BTW: like everybody else, scientists can be very sloppy, and they usually don’t know much beyond their professional area (which often rather narrow, "one-dimensional", the result of a long-time "boring" in the same direction), hence often they do very stupid things or make stupid suggestions. However, because they are considered to be smart, they rarely accept the fact that they may be stupid, too.
An interesting fact: everything what is said about scientists is also true for about 99 % of businessman. Examples are numerous. Even so-called "college dropouts" like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg first had to get good school education, good enough to get in a top-notch university, and then drop out from it. The story of Chris Gardner is so unique, that Will Smith made a movie about him.

As a case study of becoming a scientist I want to tell about my path. Below is basically my generic letter of interest I used when applying for jobs. It shows that the only reason I am where I am, is that I was always moving myself.
Letter of Interest
“He is a master. I think all professor should be able to teach as him. That way students would not have to spend hours reading off of lectures.”
“I can honestly say I had never seen a professor who cared more for his students and how they do, as well as what they learn.”
“Thank you, thank you, thank you! Mr. V, thank you for putting up with all of us this summer!! I feel much more prepared for the MCAT. And I loved the demonstrations! Thanks for putting all the time + effort!”
“Professor V, You designed this class so that those who put in the effort would succeed, so I gave it my all and sure enough. I want to say thank you for creating such a conducive learning environment for me to succeed. I hadn't taken a physics class since my freshman year in high school, so I was very nervous going into your class. I did not expect this course to become my favorite science course so far at BU. Physics is a hard subject, but you explained everything well and made sure we, as a class, had the tools necessary to succeed with enough hard work on our end.”
These are quotes from many “thank you” notes and nice words said about me by my former students (this link provides more examples, including the latest).
I believe, such a feedback is one of the greatest rewards any teacher can have.
Three times (!) since my university graduation, I had to re-start my professional career from a square one. This feedback is one of the proudest achievements of my professional life.
Dear Colleagues,
I hope your view of an educator is similar to mine, i.e. at the core of an educator is a person who is good at teaching, one who can think outside a box, who can create non-obvious solutions to non-traditional problems.
A good teacher is a teacher who can teach not only memorizing and repeating various – even very complicated – patterns (that is essentially no different from training animals doing tricks – BTW: that is what all current AI-systems do); but also beyond; i.e. a good teacher is a teacher who, in addition to solid knowledge and skills, can teach how to think creatively and critically – which is the essence of Human intelligence. Currently the filed has no common definition of Intelligence, that is why I have developed my own. Intelligence is an ability to create a solution to a problem which has never been solved before (by the host of Intelligence; Cognisity.How/2017/12/AIdef.html). My definition not just grasps the quintessence of intelligence, but is also operational, i.e. measurable. For me, the ultimate goal of teaching is helping students to advance their intelligent abilities, i.e. helping them become truly human (and I teach this to my students, no matter what specific subject I teach at the time; using my own technique: Cognisity.How/2018/02/Algorithm.html; Cognisity.How/2018/02/ThinkPhy.html).
“I have a very particular set of skills, which I have acquired over a long career”. My student evaluations are the result of my extensive and successful professional experience in the field of education.
I have no doubt, I will be a good fit as a member of your professional team.
What may make me stand out of other potential candidates is the breadth of my professional experience.
I have a deep knowledge of the main subject I teach (M.S. in Theoretical Physics), as well as augmented subjects (math, logic, problem solving, human psychology, methods for teaching); I am an expert in teaching methodology and teacher preparation (PhD in Education); I have a deep knowledge of Human Intelligence; I have an extensive and successful tutoring, teaching and research experience; I believe, all this makes me a teach-smith (so to speak;
I have a successful experience in designing and teaching courses for middle school, high school, college and university students, pre-service and in- service teachers. I have a clear vision of the structure of an effective on-site or online science course (the latter should be more than a standard combination of “talking heads”, hyperlinked texts, screen simulations, and chat rooms).
A joke “those who cannot do – teach; those who cannot teach – teach teachers” is definitely not about me.
I could have become a physicist. To prove it to myself, in 2010 (not ever doing physics before that) I read some papers on high temperature super conductivity, and then wrote mine own, which was published in a peer reviewed specialized magazine (
I love working with teachers, but not because I cannot teach students – on the contrary, my student feedback tells me that I am a good teacher.
I love working with teachers because I am good at teaching, and I have professional experience I would love to share. A large portion of my experience in the field of teacher professional development was summarized as a chapter in a book (Cognisity.How/2016/10/facilitating.html). There is, though, the seed of truth in the joke. It is just a fact that when someone is good at doing something, it does not necessarily mean that the one can also clearly explain what the one does, and why the one is good at it, because “explaining” is also a teachable skill.
My professional goal is very simple – I want to maximize my professional output.
Three times since my university graduation, I had to re-start my professional career from a square one (
When I was receiving my MS diploma in theoretical physics, I thought I would be becoming a physicist. However, when the Russian economy collapsed, in order to feed my family, I turned to tutoring, and later to teaching middle and high school students, and then college and university students, and then teachers. At the time, schools were some of few places where the government sometimes paid some money. Soon I realized that students liked my teaching, and I liked teaching students, and I started my second career – as an educator.
I joined a team of innovative teachers, administrators, researchers, and consultants. Our team has been running various teacher professional development activities, including a year-long project involving teams from multiple schools, with the end of a year bootcamp for students and teachers. As the result, in addition to teaching, I also entered the field of teacher professional development, and educational consulting, and got my PhD in Education (specialization in andragogy, concentration in teacher professional development). However, I did not like the changes in the political atmosphere. In 2001 a miracle happened – I won a Green Card.
When I moved in the U.S. I started my third career from a square one (my first job was a janitor at a supermarket). Since no one knew me, and I knew no one, and I spoke just very basic English, the journey to reestablishing myself as an educator was not quick and easy. But today I teach, I write, I research.
I am proud of my current achievements, but I am looking forward to make the next step in my professional journey.
I have been involved in many collaborative projects which had led to development of new curricula, new course content, efficient tools for managing teaching activities and learning experiences, facilitating teacher professional development, running professional development workshops for teachers and administrators.
I started my teaching career as a tutor. Tutoring may be very helpful for gaining a deep understanding of numerous reasons for different students to have various difficulties with getting a good understating of math and physics.
Some tutors would help a student to do the homework, and then a student would come back with a new homework, and then again, and again. For me it felt like cheating. I wanted to teach my students how to do their homework on their own. My goal was to help a student to reach that level of understanding so he or she would not need me anymore. It may have looked counterproductive – money-wise. But in reality, it worked for me very well, because parents of my students told about me to other parents, and I had plenty of clients.
Tutoring helped me to initiate the development of my teaching toolbox tailored to students with different background. People usually are eager to talk about gifted students, and how to help talented students to realize their potential. Struggling students do not often attract the same attention as gifted ones. Tutoring is like having a clinical practice. All good students are good due to mostly the same reason (a good background), but when a student struggles there might be numerous possible causes for that.
Teaching and tutoring physics, algebra, geometry, trigonometry, problem solving, logic helped me acquire an integrative view on various difficulties students may have and effective approaches to guide students through those difficulties (BTW: every good physics teacher can teach math, the opposite statement is wrong). My Doctoral work was focused on the approach for igniting and supporting teacher’s sustainable desire to grow professionally, and on methods for helping teachers to design the most effective path for their continuous sustainable professional development (teaching teachers about teaching requires deep and wide understanding of learning, teaching, and of the teaching subject).
In Russia I was a member of “Moscow – Perm Socratic group” – a collaboration of educators dedicated to promoting the Socratic Method of teaching (Cognisity.How/2018/02/Socrates.html).
I have a long and successful experience in teaching various mathematics and physics courses, course for pre-service and in-service teachers and school administrators. I have been teaching Mathematics and Physics to almost all possible categories of students (i.e. to middle- and high- school students, 2-year and 4-year college students, university students, to students with learning difficulties, and to school teachers). I also have been teaching various curses for in-service teachers (in parallel with teaching math and physics).
For a number of years, I had been working at a regional institution for teacher professional development, providing various courses and training to teachers and school administrators. Individually and as a member of a team I was consulting and auditing individual teachers, schools, and school districts regarding educational policies, teaching technologies, learning outcomes, and quality of education in general. Alone and with my colleagues, I was traveling to towns and villages of the Perm Region to meet with teachers and administrators and helping them with adjusting teaching and administrative strategies and techniques in order to achieve better learning outcomes of their students; including preparing strategic plans for systemic development of a school, a district and a regional education system.
My administrative experience involves running a department of computerization at Perm Institute for Continues Teacher Education, working as an assistant to the President of the Faculty Assembly of the Institute, and later running the Center for Development of the School System of City of Perm, which was an analytical branch of the City Department of Education (my last position before moving to the U.S.).
I was hired by the Perm State (a.k.a. Region, a.k.a. Oblast') department of Education as a consultant to help draft the “Program of the Development of the State Educational System for the five-year period”. This was one of the highest levels of the recognition of me as a professional educator and a consultant.
After I moved in the U.S. and re-entered the field of education, I have been teaching Boston University PY105/106 Elementary Physics courses, as well as College Mathematics, Physics and Problem Solving at ITT Technical Institute (Norwood, MA), Wentworth Institute of Technology, Bridgewater State University, BU High School Academy.
During the years of my teaching practice I have developed numerous math and physics middle-, and high- school and college curricula, syllabi and lesson plans; problem sets, worksheets and hands-on activities. I have an experience in developing websites and using such ones as webct, moodle, blackboard, webassign, masteringphysics, wileyplus; creating new demonstrations, filming movies and posting them online, using Java applets and audience responds systems (eInstruction, Turning Technologies); developing laboratory experiments and writing manuals. I have been and am using different teaching strategies, including different media to motivate students to learn and to help students to master a subject.
My years of personal tutoring and teaching provided me with invaluable insights on how people learn and how to help them to master a subject and to become more efficient learner (my teaching philosophy is summarized at Cognisity.How/2017/11/method.html). I have been sharing this experience with many students, teachers, and colleagues. I have strong communication skills, deep understanding of pedagogy, wide teaching experience, and competent in using a variety of educational software products.
I firmly believe in a scientific approach to teaching and to research on teaching. A teacher should be able to state specific goals, list the assumptions, formulate the criteria of a success, and establish measuring tools and procedures, and a researcher should be able to do the same as well. I am also convinced that contemporary technologies will allow to bringing teaching to a new level.
My personal teaching experience always has been entangled with my research and consulting practices, and this entanglement represents one of the most helpful assets I have and use when working with students, colleagues, teachers, and administrators, because I usually know what students, colleagues, teachers and administrators may want or need, what obstacles they may encounter and need to overcome, and how to help them to do that.
I am a team player, the goals of my team always set limits and directions for my personal professional goals. Throughout all my professional life as an educator I have always had good relationships with my students and colleagues. I always respect all my students and they know it, and they respect me back even if at the end of the course they do not have the grade they would like to have.
I am confident that my teaching, research, and administrative experience will allow me to become a successful member of the team of innovative educators.
Sincerely,  Dr. Valentin Voroshilov (Cognisity.How/2018/02/Iam.html)
P.S. What usually confuses HR associates is the fact that never in my life I was holding only one professional position. Since the time when I was a middle school student, in addition to taking classes, I had always had some job on a side, and then later in my professional career I held at least two official positions, and sometimes even three. I hope I will be able to work in this regime until my retirement, which is so far away, I don’t even see when it could happen.
Thank you for visiting,
Dr. Valentin Voroshilov
Education Advancement Professionals

To learn more about my professional experience:

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