discussion / Early Career  / 12 July 2022

Academia folks: what kind of tech training/exposure are you giving to your undergrads?

One of the things I've noticed in my work with some undergrads is that they're getting a pretty scattershot approach to learning about technology and its applications in conservation work. Some will end up volunteering on a project where they end up using a drone, a camera trap, an acoustic sensor, etc. And some will end up taking courses--usually upper-division in the case of natural resources and wildlife programs at my university at least--where they're exposed to tools like R, Python, or ArcGIS. But I'm curious how universal that is, especially since I got my start doing tech stuff basically because I wasn't able to take a field course in undergrad due to limited spots and ended up learning R instead, and the rest is history.

I'm curious about this question also, although I think it's a tricky proposition for conservation  departments (ecology, biology, etc) to tackle technology education for future conservationists. 

One of the pitfalls that technology curriculums get stuck in is always playing catchup to tools and languages that are constantly changing. For example, the high school AP computer science curriculum is still based on Java which is kind of painful because university computer science is largely based on python. Computer science curriculums that are based on javascript need to constantly navigate the new and changing frameworks that keep on popping up.

I'm curious to see if academia is teaching a tech curriculum and also how it's approaching pitfalls like this.

Pretty much all biostats classes in higher ed will be taught in R, you'd have to separately take a Python class. But even that would require the knowledge that you might need Python at all, which is not something I realized until far later in my career (in undergrad, it was what the computer science people took so how could it possibly be helpful for me yadda yadda). I say this too having been an undergrad right around when the big data revolution really took off, so I'm not sure what kind of curricular changes have been made following that. At my undergrad & Master's universities at least, there have not been any. One biostats course required for each, taught in R.

In terms of tech like hardware, ecology/conservation programs seem woefully under-focused on this. You can take a conservation class that might talk it about it for one lecture or a genetics class where you talk about eDNA, etc. but it doesn't seem as embedded into the overall curriculum as much as it should be. 

I of course am only speaking from my own experiences and those around me who have come from different universities. I know there are some universities doing it better, for example Andrew Schulz teaches a Conservation Tech class at Georgia Tech. Florida Tech has a Conservation Tech Master's program, as does Liverpool John Moore in the UK and Holland College in Canada. Pacific Union College also has a Conservation Tech concentration in their Bio department. 

There are also centres within universities that are focused on certain aspects of conservation tech - we have a bunch listed in the Conservation Tech Directory (you can filter by academia).