Skip to main

Dean's blog: Keep scientific curiosity alive and well at Mason

Dean Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm

Mason scientists are experts in their fields and make important discoveries every day. From COVID diagnostics, monitoring, and treatment to saving living species and identifying exoplanets, we have a tremendous science enterprise here. At this time each year, we get to see the exciting progress our students made by attending their research poster presentations or when hearing their dissertation defenses. 

As a research university, we strive to involve students in our research activities early on. The Mason science robust research portfolio sits on a solid foundation created by our accomplished faculty. Our faculty and graduate level mentors cultivate exciting research experiences which power the discoveries our students make because our students are heavily involved in all aspects of the research process. 

Our research foci include health and life sciences, earth, space, and the environment around us, applied fields such as forensics and materials, using a variety of experimental, theoretical, and computational approaches. We work hard to make sure research experiences are plentiful. For our science to thrive, we offer meaningful research opportunities in each domain at all levels -- postdocs, PhDs, masters, and especially undergraduates. And we take time to meaningfully recognize this work.

This exciting research and learning does not happen in a vacuum. Our research is highlighted in hundreds of media outlets, scientific publications (294 last year alone) and conferences. And we share often amongst ourselves as well. As an example, we recently gathered to showcase our discoveries during the successful Geographic Information Systems (GIS) day and chemistry poster sessions. This week, our science community can attend biology-, systems biology-, Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation- and MEGL-sponsoredresearch reviews. And next week we all can participate in the college-wide Learning Assistant Virtual Poster Session and university’s OSCAR celebration of student scholarship. 

Why should these challenging and meaningful research experiences build the next generation of scientists? The immersive learning we offer in our labs and in the field shape strong problem solving skills, inspiration, creativity, and innovation, all necessary to help solve society's greatest challenges. 

Combine those attributes with the strong work ethic our diverse students are known to possess, and we are able to create powerful collaborations and partnerships that look beyond what is to what could, should or should not be. 

Many would be deceived by thinking that science happens in isolated labs, with lone researchers that interact little with the rest of the world. Nothing further from the truth! Science is an intensely social enterprise; research is shared through a variety of outlets: conferences, workshops, symposia, and of course, published papers. It is therefore really important to learn how to effectively share one's discoveries throughout the scientific process, especially to build collaborations and collect feedback which can broaden perspectives and further insights. These outlets also allow students to explore new findings with experienced researchers. We all must work together for this to occur. 

Many eons ago, I remember being an undergraduate student asked by my advisor to give a presentation on my earliest research experience (numerical modeling of heat transfer in finned pipes) at a conference; I was terrified. I did it, and it went well. Since that time, I have probably given hundreds of oral presentations and posters; it has never gotten easier for me (I am the nervous type!), but every time I interact with an audience of my peers, I learn something new. This is what science is all about.

My heartfelt thanks go to those working hard to make these experiences happen. To those students who put themselves out there to fully participate and learn. And especially to all those in our community who attend these events which are essential to fuel the collaborative scientific discovery and recognition cultures we grow at Mason.

Scientific curiosity is alive and well at Mason!