Background on Dr. Seager’s Career and Sustainable Engineering
1:55 – Thomas Talks about his background and how he moved around a little bit in his career in order to find a place that would allow him to do the type of work he wanted to do in sustainable engineering. This is challenging engineers to think in terms of complex systems and their emergent properties.
3:15 – You cannot set and forget in sustainable engineering. Traditional engineering does not allow for a feedback loops. Sustainable engineering allows for a constant cycle of learning and adaptation.
Always Bring an Extra Talk
4:30 – When Christine first met Thomas he gave a talk that was a last minute fill in for someone who canceled. She was also refreshed to hear someone talking practicing engineering outside of more traditional constraints.
6:22 – Thomas advises all of his students to bring an extra talk to all of their meetings and conferences. Expectations are low, and the talk is usually shorter. It is the perfect opportunity if someone cancels at the last minute. Otherwise the momentum of the conference or session and people are sitting around waiting for the next scheduled talk to start.
How To Do More than Check Tenure Boxes
8:15 – Moving beyond the checkboxes of tenure. Thomas shares a historical perspective on the concept of tenure. We talk about tenure as if it was a sacred contract. However, it is a fairly recent phenomenon of the 20th century. It solved the problem of the industrial revolution. Specialization of labor and economies of scale to drive costs down.
10:30 – The metaphor for organizing knowledge was the tree. Each doctoral student was a leaf growing at the end of the twig of a branch. The problem is that you become so specialized (e.g., canal hydrology) that nobody needs your expertise anymore when something new is invented (e.g., railroads). The university was expecting the faculty to become specialized like a factory worker. When your expertise is no longer needed then you have a guaranteed salary (i.e., tenure).
Post-Industrial Age University
13:00 – Now in a post-industrial age. Industrialization solved problems like starvation and material scarcity. But it created problems like diabetes and litter. Every single problem that industrialization solved created new problems that we are now grappling with. The old model of specialization does not solve a problem that sustainability scholars have. Sustainability minded faculty may have to choose between tenure and making a difference.
14:30 – Job of the engineer is to cross the bridge between science and fiction. Science is the way the world is and fiction is about the way the world could be. New Metaphor for knowledge in the post-industrial age is the web. We see knowledge reorganizing itself around problems. You can see this in the consolidations of libraries into one place on the web. Libraries are not longer specialized.
16:30 – Given the context of post-industrialization and the writing you have done on how the university is changing, what would be your advice for early career researchers who want to understand the mindset of the university administration?
17:40 – Thomas says that each person needs to decide what does success mean to you? We are not typically judged about if we make a difference in the world, but whether we are successful in the library. For engineering, we ask the question, what does the knowledge do for you that makes the world a better place?
19:00 – Biomedical science as an example. These scientists don’t just created knowledge for the sake of getting citations. They work on problems that extend life and make life higher quality for people.
On the Future of the University and Faculty Careers
19:30 – Larger body of Academia is finishing an incredibly stable period. This gives the illusion that it will always be stable. American University has been reinvented several times. Last major change was after a 1944 report to president Roosevelt emphasized that the United States needed research focused universities.
21:40 – What kind of universities are we going to have when people starting their careers now are finishing their careers? It is going to be different an alot of ways. Partly due to facing the problems that came out of the industrial revolution and partly due to the technologies that resulted from the same revolution.
22:42 – Technology amplifies preferential attachment. The most popular things become even more popular. If there is now recording of music the only way we enjoy music is locally and live. Musicians can make a living making local and live performances. Now that music can be recorded it pushes the rewards to the most popular music. Same thing can be true for lectures. The best instructors can be put online and thousands of people can sit in their virtual lecture halls. This is a bit scary for those that depend on teaching.
24:20 – How do we restructure a university for faculty to create knowledge where the begging of the career is just a fulfilling as the end of the career? It will not look the same as the traditional land grant universities. Knowledge is more important than ever, but the mechanisms and rewards for creating that knowledge are undergoing change.