Mr Epid-inar’s are short talks delivered by Mr Epidemiology at various venues; classes, conferences, speaker series’ etc. They should not be confused with the leafy green vegetable (French humour! Le woohoo!)

Serendipity Hall is a talk series in Kingston. They’re set up in the spirit of TED talks, and are meant to provide a platform for people to discuss issues they feel passionately about, and to spur discussion among attendees. I used this opportunity to talk/rant about my view on higher education and how I think we need to make serious changes in the way we evaluate scientists.

I’ve embedded the talk below for those who want to check it out. If the link doesn’t work, then try this link instead. If it still doesn’t work, let me know and I’ll get my tech guy to check it out (ie me in sweat pants).

Serendipity Hall – Cardboard Boxes

View another webinar from mrepid

A note. The talk was hosted at The Grad Club in Kingston (thanks Grad Club for hosting us!) Around the 3 minute mark, someone came in to give out food, so there’s a bit of silence, and then around the 13 minute mark a fridge turns on, providing a comforting buzzing sound in the background.

Some more thoughts about TED talks and higher education after the jump.

While there are criticisms of TED talks, both in terms of the exclusivity of the TED conferences, and the dumbing down and showmanship involved in presenting the information, I still think they’re a great way to get information out to people. The length of time (18 minutes) combined with a more open format compared to traditional conference presentations gives people the freedom and ability to discuss an issue and encourage the audience to *think* about a topic or issue. Some of my favourites include talks by Jamie OliverChimamanda Adichie and Adam Savage. These are just a small selection of talks; the rest cover a range of subjects from a wide variety of speakers.

In particular, I love TED Talks because they’re about ideas. Adam Savage’s talk above was about obsessions, while other talks discuss more vague concepts. But it wasn’t until I saw Ken Robinson‘s talk (embedded below), that I really got thinking about my own experiences in higher education, and how I feel that the system is broken.

And is it ever broken. Academic inflation is a very real concern – the undergraduate degree has become the norm, and a Masters degree is rapidly approaching that level as well. Seeing the single minded dedication students have to getting the highest mark possible, without stopping to understand the material is something that bothers me immensely. So when my friend Asad Chishti asked me to speak at his newly formed Serendipity Hall series, I jumped at the opportunity.

After we finished the talk, we had a great conversation about what other faculties are doing. Some faculties have identified this as a problem, and other universities have already started revamping their systems. Queen’s put out their Academic Plan which targets some of the concerns I had, and other universities are starting to either implement changes or have already done so.

I have readers from all over, and would love to hear your thoughts. Has your institution done anything to try and encourage change? Has your department? What has your experience been in the undergraduate education system?

Special thanks to Asad Chishti for inviting me to speak, and Chi Yan Lam for providing the photo of the Queen’s Undergraduate Orientation Week.