Why you SHOULD respond to student requests

I agree with this guy. Even though I doubt the educational value of teachers asking kids to send these things out, I always try to reply.

Write Science

by Shane L. Larson

To my colleagues in professional science:

There has been a tremendous and acerbic backlash over the last week against a current popular practice of K-12 students emailing professional scientists with a list of questions they would like the scientists to comment on. I too have received these emails, and I have to very clearly state (in case you haven’t already been in one of these debates with me) that I have an unpopular view on this issue: I vehemently reject the view that we cannot respond to these emails. It is part of our professional obligation to society to respond to these notes.

In the spirit of intellectual debate, which is the purported hallmark of our discipline, let me recount some of the many aspects of the arguments that have been swirling around.

The Scenario. Emails will sail into our inboxes from (usually) middle-school science students…

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3 Responses to “Why you SHOULD respond to student requests”

  1. Phil Uttley Says:

    I think this depends very much on the number and intent behind the email requests. I do really appreciate the initiative taken by some school students in asking these questions and think they really deserve a response – and I also appreciate the ‘inspiration value’ of motivated kids getting to interact with professional scientists. But if it ends up becoming a case of students just mailing in some fairly basic or general questions because they are told to by their teacher, that is something different – as long as numbers are small it is fine, but I can imagine it becoming a burden if this becomes commonplace. If students need access to good info on these questions (I understand that this can be hard to find online through all the noise), then the best solution is either better textbooks and teaching materials or a good FAQ which gathers the best answers to the common questions.

    • telescoper Says:

      Although I do try to answer as many of these queries as I can, I do sometimes wonder what teachers think their students will get out of it when they do tend to ask things that are readily available via google. Indeed when I reply I often point to web links.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    I wrote to Feynman about observability of magnetic vector potential when I was an undergrad. I got a nice and informative reply. It encouraged me.

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