Hello everyone! I am an engineer and educator with a background in electrical, optical, and biomedical engineering. Before I started teaching kids about science and engineering on the internet full-time, I was a full-time faculty member and director of the biomedical engineering undergraduate program at The University of Texas at Dallas.

I founded The Shoulders of Giants (TSoG) in 2013 with a vision to make science and engineering education accessible to all students of all ages. Over the next 5 years, the nonprofit grew to offer year-round mentorship opportunities for Dallas, TX area students ranging from middle to high school. I spent most of my free time mentoring kids and developing curriculum purely as a passion project and was never paid a dime by The Shoulders of Giants.

In mid 2018, I made the difficult decision to step away from my faculty role at the university so that I could focus my efforts on this full-time. With added focus, this has evolved into TSoG.tv, a new delivery system we launched this month centered around live Twitch streams and online open-source collaboration. This new format allows us to extend mentorship to students anywhere in the world through the magic of the internet – in fact, I have found that, through tools like Discord and GitHub, I am able to engage with students at least as, if not more, fully as I have been able to in-person in the past. I still haven’t been paid a dime (and, in fact, have put most of my life savings into making this dream a reality), but I have hopes that it will grow into a sustainable business that can allow me to continue doing this full time without my wife, daughter, and I ending up living in cardboard box. :)

One of my proudest achievements over the years was the development of the Summer Biomedical Engineering Experience (SBEE for short) in summer 2015. This is a 60-hour rigorous high school crash course in biomedical engineering that teaches kids about biomedical electronics, mechanical CAD and 3D printing, and microcontroller programming. By the end of the program, our students design and build their own electromyograph (EMG) controlled prosthetic hand. We have had over 400 students go through this program over the past 4 years, and I have had many of these remarkable young men and women contact me over the years to let me know that they are either a) off studying biomedical engineering at university now, or b) that they didn’t end up in biomedical engineering, but our program helped them find a niche within engineering that they did like.

Tomorrow, I will be hosting a 24 hour live stream on Twitch (www.twitch.tv/tsogtv) to fundraise for an initiative to expand this biomedical engineering curriculum into an open-access course that students around the world can experience for free in summer 2020. The broad appeal and multi-disciplinary nature of biomedical engineering makes it an incredible “gateway” engineering discipline, in my opinion, and I hope to provide this opportunity to anyone who wants to learn. To learn more about this initiative, please watch our trailer over at www.tsogiants.org/sbee2020

I will be teaching “Physiological Signals and Biomedical Electronics” during the 24 hour stream, a university-level lecture / lab combo course that I hope will evolve into one of the tracks of the #sbee2020 program. It begins at 10am CDT on Saturday, June 29th, and will likely run until at least noon CDT on Sunday. If you’re interested in the field, I hope you can tune in!

I am currently preparing for this live stream, but am happy to answer questions about just about anything for the next few hours until I head off to get some rest.

Proof: https://twitter.com/tsogtv/status/1144667136343924737

Edit: This has been a lot of fun, everyone! The Reddit community is great!

I need to get some rest to be ready for tomorrow, but I will check back in the morning and answer a few more questions before the stream starts. Also, please tune in and say hi during the stream tomorrow! www.twitch.tv/tsogtv

Edit 2: You guys are the absolute best - thank you for the gold and all the Twitch follows! I'm going to sleep now, but I'll be back in the morning to answer any questions that happen overnight. I'm allowing myself one 10 minute break every 3 hours during the 24-hour stream, so I may pop in to answer a few questions during the day as well. Just 12 hours to go!

Edit 3: I am back and answering questions for the next hour or so until the stream starts! After that, I'll check in and post updates / answer questions a bit on breaks.

Edit 4: Getting prepped to go live - Wish me luck! Come say hi in the Twitch chat!

Edit 5: The stream and fundraiser went great! We didn't quite hit our fundraising goal, but got a lot of one-time donations and a few new Patrons as well. I am planning on moving forward with the #sbee2020 initiative. The whole video is up as a VOD on Twitch now. If you want to good highlight from the end of the stream, check out this clip that Twitch user flowerofthenite created: https://www.twitch.tv/tsogtv/clip/AstuteRespectfulFlyPJSalt

Final Edit: Thank you all for the great questions! I think I have answered every top-level question with positive karma at this point - if I missed you, please feel free to send me a direct message. The exposure we gained from this AMA was incredible, and I'll be sure to be back in the future! We are still growing, and the biggest thing you could do to help at this point is to encourage your friends to follow our channel on Twitch! https://www.twitch.tv/tsogtv

Comments: 142 • Responses: 55  • Date: 

NicDonaldson235 karma

Is Mitochondria the powerhouse of the cell? It’s ok if you don’t know the answer.

drfoland203 karma

Oh man, this takes me back! We used to do a really fun little outreach activity for elementary school students where we would have them build a felt "cell" model alongside a "city" model. We would have them put up each organelle at the same time as they would place a part of the city - so "town hall" and "nucleus" would go up at the same time, etc.

Anyway, I remember the exact month that that meme starting becoming a thing. All of a sudden, every single kid knew exactly what to put on the board alongside the "power plant" - it was kind of surreal.

NicDonaldson39 karma

Haha! It’s like that trash tag trend that went around here a few months ago. If you weren’t aware it was where people collected rubbish in their local area and #trashtagged it. It’s cool that it helped the environment.

There is a YouTube channel called “CrashCourse and it teaches Science in a fun way while still sharing the knowledge. Growing up and as you teach kids, how does your teaching incorporate a fun factor? Do you believe you should be taught in a fun way, what’s your thoughts?

drfoland49 karma

I think there's a healthy balance between "fun" and "serious", and it changes depending on the age of the students. With elementary-age kids, it's a win if they're having fun and walk away with a bit more knowledge than they went in with, that's for sure.

For older students (esp. high school), it is important that the fun be balanced with the reality that "real" science and engineering are hard. Having that perspective from my time at the university is something I am really grateful for. A lot of times, educators get so focused on trying to make science seem "fun" that kids end up going off to college never expecting a challenge, and end up very disillusioned and frustrated as a result when things get tough.

For me, I like to bring "fun" into it in two main areas: One is taking a serious look at silly things - an example of this is our current project of engineering a better water bottle rocket launcher. It's a goofy, fun, relateable toy at the end of the day, but we're having serious discussions about 3D printing tolerances, durability, and documentation around it.

The second thing is to just maintain a good "balance" to the educational environment. Science and engineering get hard, and you would never expect (or at least shouldn't expect) grad students to have laser-focus on their projects for 8+ hours at a time - so why should we expect that of younger students? It's a lot easier to do this in an informal education environment, granted, but taking time to talk to the students about things other than curriculum keeps things from getting oppressive.

sneyray50 karma

What about your time as a faculty made you want to leave for the teaching environment you’re in right now? Is it wanting to reach younger kids? Figuring that an unstructured environment is more effective?

drfoland120 karma

Hi Snehith! Two things, honestly:

  1. In a university environment done right, students are exposed to all kind of new concepts, ideas, and causes. It is when a lot of us learn about professional responsibility and initiatives that are important to the world as a whole. Unfortunately, a lot of our personality (obviously not all of it, but a good bit) is already established at that point. We want our future technical professionals to be good citizens of the scientific community, but most of the time they don't get exposed to what that means until they're already adults. I felt strongly that, with the power of the Internet, we could be exposing students to those kinds of ideas at a much earlier age. That's one of the reasons I emphasize our group as a community so frequently, and encourage our high school students to take on projects that give back - be it for the benefit of education, the environment, those less fortunate, etc.
  2. In a university environment done wrong, students have been so conditioned to worry about grades and rankings that the relationship between students and professors becomes borderline adversarial. My perspective on this was likely further skewed by the fact that, in biomedical engineering, a large percentage of students are pre-med students who have been told that having an engineering degree will help them get into a good med school. Coming in with that kind of attitude leads to way too many students who don't have a love for engineering, learning, or even the field they are going into. Sucks the fun out of it for everyone, you know?

What I love about what I'm doing now is that all of my students are here because they want to be. This is something I love to do (both teaching and engineering), and it's great to be surrounded by people who love it too.

AtL_eAsTwOoD37 karma

How do you feel about the recent uprising of anti-science movements happening currently, i.e. anti-vax, creationism, flat earth theorists, etc? Also, the large following of public figures like Ken Ham getting so much traction and how you feel it effects the future generation of scientists and engineers.

drfoland58 karma

It is one of the things that keeps me up at night, and probably one of the biggest motivating factors I had in making the transition I made.

In another response, I wrote:

In a university environment done right, students are exposed to all kind of new concepts, ideas, and causes. It is when a lot of us learn about professional responsibility and initiatives that are important to the world as a whole. Unfortunately, a lot of our personality (obviously not all of it, but a good bit) is already established at that point. We want our future technical professionals to be good citizens of the scientific community, but most of the time they don't get exposed to what that means until they're already adults. I felt strongly that, with the power of the Internet, we could be exposing students to those kinds of ideas at a much earlier age...

Kids are are born with a natural curiosity (Piaget) and without hate or bigotry in their hearts (I don't know, Fred Rogers, maybe?). All the bad stuff, they learn from influences around them. I worry about the future of kids who are growing up in the kinds of households that you described. Obviously it's not their fault, but I worry that by the time they get to university age and have a chance to get out in the "real world", those crazy beliefs they grew up with will be too deeply ingrained for them to escape from.

If I found out some day that a kid from a crazy anti-vaxx / flat earth / etc. household discovered our program early on and it helped them get through things, that would probably be the highlight of my career.

Nais12526 karma

Do you think this kind of teaching format is useful across all ages or did you start it with a specific group in mind?

drfoland19 karma

I am still learning about the format, but I hope that it can eventually be extended to all ages. I started with the typical mentorship progression of our in-person programs middle school -> high school -> advanced high school (which we call Copernicus -> Kepler -> Newton for... reasons). It seems to be working well at those levels so far.

I've never been able to teach students much younger than middle school in a laboratory environment, but have taught elementary-aged kids through outreach events for longer than I have taught any other age group. I'm actually optimistic that we may be able to incorporate this into our online format as well! I recently found out that some of our younger Copernicus kids are watching the streams on the couch with their parents - which is pretty awesome! Maybe elementary-school aged "family" streams might be in the future for us, but it's too soon to tell.

One of the things I really like about this format is that everyone can experience it in their own way. Want to watch by yourself? Sure! Want to watch with a group of friends? Form a neighborhood engineering club! Want to watch with mom and dad? Kids can do that now, and I'm optimistic that this will have good effects across a wide variety of learning styles.

lil-rap24 karma

Do you find it as funny or possibly ironic as I do that you “left academia to teach”?

drfoland18 karma

There's definitely some sad irony in the fact that, for many academics, teaching is not in their top 5 priorities. It's almost always the institution that's to blame - in my case, I just decided to create my own venue. Whether or not that still makes me an academic is up for debate, I suppose...

jessyioi14 karma

What are some unintended effect that spun out of your program? Did it really "disrupt" STEM education like you hoped?

drfoland31 karma

I just realized that you asked for unintended effects, so I thought I would answer again...

The most unintended effect I have ever experienced was the outcomes of the Summer Biomedical (SBEE) program. We ask Likert scale questions on both an entry and exit survey to help us assess affective domain criteria; questions such as "How interested are you in pursuing biomedical engineering as a future career" (scale of 1-7). That particular question had a surprising (to me) result.

What we found was that, on the entry survey, the median was typically very neutral - around a 3.5 / 7. On the exit survey, we found that the median was... almost exactly the same. However, looking into it further, what we found was that the distribution had changed dramatically! Whereas the entry survey results tend to have a very low standard deviation, with almost all of the students' responses clustered around the middle, the exit survey results were almost always bimodal in nature, with almost as many students sure that they now wanted to pursue BMEN as a future career as students who had become sure that they did not.

I see that as an absolute win - to me it indicates an incoming student body who are unsure what they want to do in the future, and an outgoing student body who are just a bit more sure of themselves. At the end of the day, biomedical engineering isn't for everyone, and it is just as good for students to recognize that as it is for them to find out that they love it.

I have since followed up with many of the students who fell onto the low end of that Likert scale, and have heard from many of them that, while they didn't like the field as a whole, the camp helped them realize the elements that they did like - most recently, I talked to a college sophomore who attended SBEE 2015 and didn't enjoy the electrical or mechanical engineering portions, but loved the programming aspects - he is now a CS major.

drfoland9 karma

Hi Jessy!

I'm not sure if "disrupting" anything is what I'm going for. Right now I'm happy with supplementing formal education in as productive and inclusive of a way as possible.

One of the things I'm most excited about is how easy it is for us to provide financial aid to students who need it. Without the overhead and liability of a large lab, we've been able to cut down the cost of tuition by about 85%. This makes it fairly easy for us to support students who quality with financial aid thanks to corporate donors and Patreon supporters. Right now, we actually have more financial aid seats available than paid students! How cool is that?

Our middle school kids start off learning how to program, then they learn advanced math skills using the "computational mathematics" approach that I've always used in our Copernicus program. This allows them to gain an understanding of practical mathematical fields like statistics and calculus without having to get bogged down in the intimidating analytical solutions. It also means that the only equipment they really need to participate is a computer and an internet connection - and we've been providing laptops to financial aid students who don't have a family computer.

If there's one thing I'd like to "disrupt" it's the unfortunate feedback cycle that causes less-privileged students to fall farther and farther behind in our educational system. Accessibility and inclusiveness is the key to erasing this gap, I think.

timetoeatalgae10 karma

Would you consider dyeing your hair purple once we get 500 followers on twitch?

drfoland11 karma

If we hit our fundraising goal for this event, I'll dye my hair purple on air.

You or Betsy might have to supply the hair dye, though!

timetoeatalgae10 karma

What do you think are the most important qualities/things people should keep in mind when going into uncharted territory in the scientific education community like you have?

drfoland10 karma

Patience is so important. As with any "startup" venture, this has been slow to get rolling, but now that it's all coming together, things are starting to pick up - but that took me almost a year to get to this point.

One of the biggest shifts for me has been rediscovering my "voice" as an educator. I had a very distinct teaching style for in-person stuff, and I've learned that you can't just point a camera at yourself and suddenly have that style translate over to a new medium. There were a lot of changes I had to make to how I communicate, the tools I use, etc. to get to where we are now. It was very frustrating and demoralizing at times, and I'm fortunate to have a strong support network (awesome students and a very understanding wife and daughter) to encourage me. I think that and patience is the key to being able to start something new.

JuicedInIt8 karma

Are you still in the DFW area? Maybe cross posting to r/Dallas could get some donations rolling in to benefit the community!

drfoland3 karma

I probably should have done that! Not a lot of time left for me to make a good post before the stream starts, but I may have one of my students do that!

yjblow7 karma

This is awesome work, thank you for sharing it.

What kind of hardware, software and setup do you use to create your videos?

drfoland3 karma

I have a pretty beefy rig + a full lighting / greenscreen setup with a 4K main camera, 3 1080p webcams, and a 1080p industrial inspection camera for close-up work like building circuits.

I have 2 Elgato capture cards and an Elgato Stream Deck... which I bought a few months before they released the Stream Deck XL... Maybe Elgato will see this post one day and send me one, haha.

dulldragon6 karma

Do you imagine that teaching for that long to a camera feed vs a live physical audience will be harder or easier?

drfoland9 karma

I'm not going to lie, I'm pretty nervous about the 24 hour stream, but it's for a good cause. Running a stream in the way I've been doing it (high production value, one-man operation) is a bit like being the engineer, producer, and on-air talent of a radio show all at once. I tend to get a bit more emotionally drained from streaming than I do in-person, possibly because of that, or maybe just because I've been teaching in-person for a long time, but only streaming for a few months.

In either case, I don't handle all-nighters at my age (32) as well as I did when I was in grad school, so... I'm probably going to end up sleeping through most of Monday...

LordNotserp6 karma

Hi! I know you said the summer course was high school level but are university students still allowed to take it? I’m a sophomore in college but your program sounds super interesting, and honestly I’m not sure if I want to stick with biomedical engineering and this seems like it would be a really good opportunity to make that decision. If so, where would I go for more info/registering for it?

drfoland10 karma

Hey! I know I said that I was logging off for the night, but this seemed important so I'm going to answer briefly.

Most of my programs are a step or two above the level I aim them towards (I teach calculus to middle school students, after all). I can tell you with confidence that our current summer SBEE curriculum is more challenging than either of the two freshman level intro to BMEN courses at my old university.

To be honest, there were a lot of logistical and liability-related reasons that I was never able to offer a dual high school / young adult program in the past in our in-person format, but this new online medium opens up a lot of options. We won't be offering the "real deal" until summer 2020, but I will certainly keep your post in mind and consider offering some form of formal registration option for university students (or adult learners) as well.

I'll be streaming almost a semester's worth of biomedical electronics curriculum in about 12 hours - come say "hi" to me in the Twitch chat. I know it's a lot to take in in such a short period (and my teaching conditions are, shall I say, not ideal), but the videos will be archived on Twitch / Youtube, and I'm pretty confident that most of the points will come across fairly well despite the conditions.

bengal17156 karma

First of all, cheers to you for taking up a challenge like this!! Many people want to make a difference like this, but very few are willing to truly make the sacrifices that are required to do so - you're genuinely impacting people's lives in a positive way, and should be proud of that!!

Ok, question time. So it seems over the past couple years, slowly but surely more people are moving to lead an open-source style of education - things like what your doing, what Khan Academy is doing, various YouTubers, etc. - for the purpose of providing a meaningful & accurate curriculum to whomever wants it. Furthermore, these platforms allow students to proceed at their own pace, something our current institutions don't really accommodate. One could argue that the education & knowledge you receive within your first year or two of college (calc 1 thru diffEq,physics 101, chem 101, bio 101, etc), could be obtained over the internet for free at their own pace, it's just a matter of proving the knowledge obtained. Since you've been involved in both higher education as well as "underground" (for lack of a better term) education, I pose two questions from this:

1) Do you see the future of the US's education system (~50 years or so) moving away from our current institutions and more towards the open-source, internet-based style that you provide?

2) Currently, our universities double as not only institutions of higher learning, but also essentially cash cows. If this "change" of education platform were to take place, I could only assume Universities would not go down without a fight, as all money-making industries do. In what ways do you think that Colleges & Unis would fight or push back against this change, or attempt to slow it down/discredit it?

EDIT: Spelling/Formatting

drfoland9 karma

First of all, I typically refer to what I am doing now as "informal education", but I have to say... "underground education" sounds way more bad ass. Do you mind if I co-opt that term to describe myself?

1) One of the limitations of online education, as you have said, is credibility (i.e. proving the knowledge obtained), but another issue is accountability - online courses have notoriously low completion rates. This is why I am pioneering a hybrid approach - one that combines the live-interaction aspects of an in-person course, but with the accessibility of an online course. As our student body grows, I am hoping to tap into industry professional volunteers to act as small-group mentors. If this works out, it will help us with both our credibility and accountability. I am hoping that a hybrid model like this would help passionate educators reach a larger number of students, while allowing for part-time community engagement to help with student guidance. Time will tell, I suppose, but formal education moves slowly.

2) Oh man, this is about to get heavy and political up in this: The dark shadow of capitalism looms over many social changes that I think are going to be important over the next few decades. A lot of issues that should boil down to "how can we make things better for everybody" end up turning into "but if we help these other people, how will I keep being mega rich?" The system will fight back the same way large institutions always do - by getting people to blame those less fortunate rather than placing the blame where it belongs - at the system. You can already see this happening with the #CancelStudentDebt movement - instead of blaming the system for making them go through crippling student debt, people are being encouraged to say "But I had to work 3 jobs to pay off my student loans and now these people won't have to... it's not FAIR!"

BeardGoneBad5 karma

My wife just got a job at UTD and we are moving to the area in about 2.5 weeks! I currently work in community organizing in Ohio mainly doing mentoring for low income and marginalized youth and am looking for job opportunities close to UTD! Any advice or organizations I should check out? I’m in full job search mode right now so seriously any suggestions or advice would be incredible!

drfoland2 karma

Cool! There are lots of great companies in the area, but it's hard to narrow things down based on the information I have. Feel free to send me a direct message.

newdayagain075 karma

did you think about incorporating some sort of circuit sim software into this? i think most kids watching at home wouldnt get access to any of the real portions of electrical engineering. so it would be crucial that they can play with it in software. i just watched your trailer. the course looks VERY serious and informative. you're doing an amazing jobs. after watching some of your videos, i'm getting a salman khan feeling from you.

drfoland3 karma

Thank you very much! I am working on some software partnerships now to be able to provide free simulation / modelling tools to students, so yes! While practical hands-on experience is great, I recognize that owning instrumentation for every field of science and engineering is financially infeasible for most. With simulation software, students could get exposed to a wide variety of fields for little to no money, then decide whether they want to invest in instrumentation in a specific field once they have a better understanding.

the_rickiest_rick5 karma

What about kids who don’t have access to the internet or computers? Did you consider equity when you designed this program?

drfoland3 karma

We provide laptops to students who qualify for financial aid and do not have a family computer at home. In our local area, we have set up a few public library "meet up" groups for students to meet and watch the streams in a public place, which would be a good option for students without access to the internet at home. As our program grows, I hope to get these set up in a lot more places.

Equity and accessibility will always be a challenge, but are top priorities for us.

kashuntr1885 karma

I teach Math in High school.

Was wondering are there any specific Math skills that you find your students in university are lacking that really hurt their ability to do the work?

Are there any specific life skills (attendance, or whatever) that are crucial to success for your students?

drfoland4 karma

Note taking is the most essential skill students can develop early on. So many smart students fail to develop note-taking skills because they are smart enough to not need to in high school, but everyone eventually reaches a level where note-taking becomes essential.

Statistics is one math skill that I wish was taught more commonly in pre-university curricula. So many STEM majors lack the mathematical language necessary to interpret and report their findings in a scientific and professional way!

insanitorian5 karma

Dude, just curious, is there anyone funding you?

drfoland3 karma

I have some awesome smaller corporate sponsors, but, in general, this is self-funded by myself and a small group of private donors.

Fingers crossed that the fundraiser goes well today!

fetherdish5 karma

I live in a country where majority of the out of school youths do not have access to the internet. Do you have future plans of expanding that can help accommodate their situation?

drfoland3 karma

I would absolutely look into addressing this if I had the financial resources to do so. Right now, the only people who cannot access what we are doing are those with no internet and those in countries where Twitch is blocked (e.g. China).

Do you have any ideas about how we might be able to help? Would it be possible to set up a "club" or group that meets to watch / participate somewhere with an available internet connection?

SKBED1235 karma

In the spirit of AMA, how old are you? How do you pay the mortgage? It's a cool project, but I'm more curious about you.

drfoland3 karma

I'm 32. Right now I pay my bills thanks to the 5 years I spent in academia saving up for taking this plunge. I always knew that I wanted to do this full-time, but absolutely did not have the financial means to take a risk like this when I was fresh out of grad school.

monkey_see5 karma

I hope you're feeling refreshed after your break! I truly applaud you for following your passion for teaching - I have many friends who are like you, but haven't been brave enough to cut the ties with the academia that is slowly draining their life force.

My question is actually about the business side of things - do you have plans and support to take this to where a cardboard box isn't a possibility? (and I mean that in a genuine way, even though I am fluent in sarcasm)

drfoland5 karma

I am feeling refreshed, thank you!

That's the plan - to turn this into a sustainable full-time gig. I'm not looking for this to make me rich by any stretch of the imagination, but if it can pay my bills and bring in enough extra to grow and expand to reach more students, then I will be thrilled.

kiran97235 karma

Hey I'm gonna a senior highschooler staring August and I'm thinking about future careers and what I know that I want to do is something in the science or health/medical area.

Would a career like this be good for someone who has a curious nature and likes to experiment things just to see what would happen?

How many years of college will this take and what jobs can I be able to get with this?

Also how much crippling debt would I be in afterward?

Sorry if some of these are dumb questions you don't have to answer all of them or any of them

drfoland1 karma

Hi! Sorry it took me so long to get to this question - and please do not apologize, these are not dumb questions.

Biomedical engineering is a discipline of engineering at the end of the day - as I've said elsewhere, it is not "biology with a side of engineering", it is "engineering with a side of biology". If you like to build things, but still fancy working in or around the healthcare / medical field, then it might be right for you, but it's ok if it isn't.

You can certainly get a job in the field with a 4 year degree, but there are more options available with a Masters (so a total of 6-ish years if you went that route). There is no reason to go into crippling debt for college - go to a university you can afford or get a scholarship to for your Bachelor's degree, then transfer to a more prestigious college for graduate school if you can / want to. Most students who do research during grad school get a free ride + a stipend.

Dayum3435 karma

As a student that is currently studying Biomedical engineering at a pre-university level, I'd just like to ask about what can I expect from my life if I continue this as a career path?

Side note: I'm also interested in the educational/teaching path. Also in all honesty, I would love to work/learn biomedical engineering under you.

drfoland3 karma

It's really hard to say what to expect, because there are so many different paths you can take within the field - it is very broad. That being said, I do know that a lot of students come into biomedical engineering their freshman year of college expecting it to be a like a biology program with a little smattering of engineering, where in reality, it is the other way around: an engineering program with extra biology on the side. If you're already studying BMEN at the pre-university level, it definitely sounds like you're on the right track, though!

I hope you consider joining our program! https://www.tsogiants.org/apply

walnut_Y_soybean4 karma

What is the best way to make a case for statistics and basic computer code being taught in standard curriculums? When do you think these materials should ideally begin to be taught regularly?

drfoland8 karma

Changing standard curricula is certainly a long road! I don't think real change can be made until a) there is an undeniable body of evidence that students exposed to these things at a certain age perform better overall than students who do not, and / or b) we get more engaged, informed people in charge of setting standardized curricula. I'm trying to tackle this on both fronts, but it's an uphill battle inside of a formal education environment. In the short-term, making students aware of resources they could be accessing outside of their formal training (of which there are many) is the best bet.

In my opinion, middle school is an ideal age to begin learning statistics! A lot of statistics hinges on basic understanding of algebra I materials, which typically happens around 6th-8th grade in this country depending on the school. After that, there is no reason to hold kids back from learning how to apply that algebra to be able to test and explain their hypotheses more scientifically. If it were up to me, we would teach statistics immediately following or concurrently with algebra I during science fair season each fall.

As for programming, the best age to begin being taught is "as early as possible"! Although "real" programming relies on basic reading and math skills, the foundations of computational thinking, such as decomposition of processes into steps, pattern recognition, and abstraction, can be introduced during very early childhood.

walnut_Y_soybean6 karma

Thank you for the reply, I agree with you completely. Good luck with everything, you’re doing exactly what the world needs right now. Your AMA has inspired me to come out of my crusty academic research hole and do some mentoring again! Cheers!

drfoland5 karma

That makes me so happy to hear! Thank you for this.

CushyPolity4 karma

pineapple on pizza?

drfoland16 karma

Are you, by chance, one of my alumni? I've had many a heated debate about pineapple on pizza with former students...

That being said, I am a monster that enjoys Hawaiian pizza from time to time, especially if it has jalepenos on it.

Micro_Masta4 karma

Would you guys ever consider expanding to include civil engineering? I’m taking a civil engineering undergraduate course right now and something like this would be really nice in helping me understand the courses. On a side note, do you have any advice for undergraduates who feel like they made a mistake when they chose their major? I’m having a lot of trouble dealing with the coursework now and it’s hard to find motivation to continue in the degree. Thanks for taking the initiative to do such a thing, I’ll be sure to share it with my engineering friends.

drfoland3 karma

I certainly would! I do some truss analysis in one of our Kepler courses, but that's about the end of my large structure expertise, I'm afraid. If I find the right people to work with, I'd be open to expanding into just about any STEM field. Funny enough, my father in law is a civil engineer, but he's in his 70s and I don't think he'd be up for Twitch streaming.

It's ok to feel the way you're feeling about your major - remember that. I have felt that way about many things I have done over the years. Sometimes you just need to give yourself room to feel that way so that you can take the time you need to evaluate whether it's just short-term stress talking, or whether you actually don't belong in that field.

If you do decide to change majors, remember that delaying your graduation by a year or two is a small price to pay for avoiding a life-time of being unhappy with your career. If you ever want to reach out to me again to talk about this, please don't hesitate to!

DNAthrowaway12344 karma

What opinion do you have if any on graduate employee unions?

drfoland5 karma

Protection of graduate students is very important in general. I've seen far too many examples of grad students ending up being treated as effectively "indentured labor" by professors who wouldn't let them graduate because they needed them and couldn't afford to pay them as post docs.

I'm not familiar enough with the graduate employee unions to speak one way or another on any specific ones, but it's important to protect our future by taking care of our grad students one way or another. Personally, I would rather see it happen through legislature and institutional regulations rather than seeing grad students have to waste their time unionizing, but understand if that's their only option.

Mental health is very important, everyone! Especially for grad students.

umareyousure3 karma

Would it be true to say you have never left academia?

drfoland1 karma

You can take the teacher out of academia, but you can't take the academia... out of the teacher?

I was going somewhere with that, but I lost it. I don't handle all-nighters like I did in my 20s... Probably going to take me another day or two to fully recover.

Original_Diddy3 karma

So I'm actually about to graduate with a degree in bioengineering (on the biomedical track). With all the start ups and giant companies out there in this industry it can be a little overwhelming to try understand it all. My question is simply what do you think are the most exciting companies in this field to work for?

drfoland1 karma

There are tons of awesome companies in the field, but biomedical engineering / bioengineering is such a broad category that it is impossible to narrow it down without more information. Feel free to reach out to me in a direct message if you would like to talk more about this!

Goose4163 karma

What advantages and disadvantages can you list for online learning compared to in-class learning?

Background: I dropped out of highschool to join the army which I've been doing for 11 years now. Recently, I enrolled as a full-time student into a health sciences program to earn a degree necessary for becoming a doctor through a military program. I keep hearing people bash online learning even though I'm having a great experience and have learned a tonne. Although I have nothing to compare it to, I'm wondering what an educators opinion is since you've made the switch from in-person to online.

drfoland1 karma

As I pointed out in another post, completion rates are low in many online courses. I think that online education can have as much of an impact on students as education in any other medium if the students stick to it, and have seen many examples of just that from resources such as Khan Academy, OpenCourseWare, etc., but many don't take full advantage of the opportunity. This is why I focus so heavily on student engagement in my program.

Time will tell what student attrition will be like in my program, but the benefits of being able to reach more students outweighed the risk from my perspective.

FakeNamek3 karma

What do you think of pixelpad.io as a coding platform? I use it at my school and I've been loving it since day 1, but I'm curious what your thoughts are on it.

drfoland1 karma

Answering that on the stream - 6:09.

Looks very cool, but I hadn't heard of it before. Thanks for pointing that out!

muse3163 karma

thank you for making such a great program.

do you need more teachers/professors to teach online courses? in addition to donations, how can other science/biomed professors help out?

drfoland3 karma

As I mentioned in another post, I am hoping to incorporate technical professionals as volunteer small-group mentors to help keep student engagement high. If you or anyone you know might be interested in spending a few hours a week chatting with / checking in on some kids via Discord, then please let me know!

In the longer term, I hope to be able to add other full-time mentors to host streams and write classes of their own.

sammithesheepishlion3 karma

My almost 5 year old loves science. What would be some good avenues to pursue to encourage her?

drfoland1 karma

Not sure where you live, but the Girl Scouts have been doing amazing work with their STEM pledge. If there is a good group in your local area, I would recommend getting involved.

Having friends who are excited about the same things is the best way to encourage kids that age!

PlsDontPablo3 karma

Cool, cool. Don't know if you stay up-to-date with your former research area. But since you have a background in optics/photonics and microelectronics (at least your publications suggest this); What technologies do you think are some of the most interesting and (potentially) disruptive that are currently being investigated by industry, research centres and academia within this area?

drfoland1 karma

If anyone ever figures out how to make an all-optical transistor, it would turn telecommunications on its head. No one has been able to make a proof-of-concept that is remotely practical yet.

akubah3 karma

My best friend asked me to talk to her daughter's girl scout troop about being an engineer to kick off a Lego unit. What do you think are the most important things to communicate to grade schoolers about going into a STEM field?

drfoland1 karma

Hey! I work very closely with the Girl Scouts!

As per my response to the top-level comment, I think getting kids excited about STEM is very important at a young age. If they're doing STEM-related activities and having fun, that's a big win!

If there's one thing that I would recommend communicating to a grade-schooler regarding STEM, it would be to emphasize the importance of math if they like what they are doing in STEM and would like to learn more / keep doing STEM. Lots of students like science in elementary school, but start dropping off in middle school when the math starts getting tougher.

Table433 karma

Do you have experience with storylining any of your units?

What are your thoughts on priority standards with NGSS and using standards-referenced grading?

drfoland1 karma

Storylining can be great if done right, but it isn't something I personally focus on. I try to leave my students with a clear idea of what we're doing and why at all times, but I'll check with them and confirm that for sure! Thanks for the input.

I think standards like NGSS are essential in formal education, but I prefer to have a lot of freedom in my supplementary program, so it isn't a big part of what I do.

royalex5553 karma

What about adults? Do you have any program for them?

drfoland1 karma

We are starting to build a really strong adult following! Currently working with the TSoG board of directors to open up a formal adult education pipeline!

throwawaydyingalone3 karma

For college/adult students, what would you say is fundamental in developing an interdisciplinary foundation in biology and engineering? I got my A.S in liberal arts/sciences last year with a focus in biology but I’m really interested in genetic engineering and synthetic biology.

drfoland2 karma

Sounds like you're already on the right track - a lot of people don't fully recognize or appreciate the importance of being well-rounded!

http://diy-bio.com/ has some great resources for the areas you expressed interest in!

thecolorofsight3 karma

Do you enjoy what you do?

drfoland3 karma


_wow_just_wow_3 karma

Are you finding that the younger generations are becoming more interested in this field?

As a Medical Engineering Post-grad, this is great. Thank you for your hard work. There's a lot of stigma in the workforce when it comes to Medical/Biomedical degrees. People often assume there's no electronics, mechanics, computation or physics involved. In fact, I've seen that, in England at least, companies are less willing to hire you because your degree classification doesn't say "mechanical" for example.

More awareness into this area will help the industry tenfold. It's great to have purely electronic and mechanical designers and engineers working at medical companies. But medical engineers have the added benefit of applying the specific bio/med knowledge that is only gained through this type of degree

drfoland1 karma

Hard to say if younger generations are becoming "more" interested in this field, but we get a lot of interest in it from younger students! Biomedical engineering as an undergraduate major has really only become prevalent in the past decade or so!

I have also experience the stigma that industry has against biomedical engineering majors. I think as programs around the country continue to improve, this will go away with time. Industry can be very slow to change!

sv2379erkel3 karma

How can I join to program ?

drfoland2 karma

By filling out the lovely form over at https://www.tsogiants.org/apply!

Netalula3 karma

Hi, do you plan on making this program accessible esp. to kids from lower income families? And "troubled" teens (i.e. teens who come from dysfunctional families and spend a lot of time on the streets)?

Because I think those are the communities who might want access to this most of all.

drfoland5 karma

That's one of our biggest focuses, and it's why I'm hosting the 24 hour stream! We currently have 50% of our students on full financial aid, and are working on developing relationships with schools in lower-income areas to make sure students are aware of the opportunity.

Our students start out with programming and math, which only requires a computer and an internet connection to participate in; we provide the students with laptops if they qualify for financial aid and do not have a computer at home.

ShakaUVM2 karma

So you left teaching to do teaching?

drfoland1 karma

Left a university to teach on Twitch. I would never leave teaching.

MikeKnowsOne2 karma

How did the fundraiser go?

drfoland1 karma

It went very well - see "Edit 5" in my original post.

cakes2 karma

Whats the science like on the health effects of staying up for 24h+ on kids

drfoland1 karma

The only person who stayed up the entire time other than myself was my wife. I told all of the kids to get some sleep and they did.

goodbyenichole2 karma

I saw you said you worked with some elementary aged kids with regards to the cell and city and that sounds amazing! My husband is a Engineering/STEM specials teacher at an elementary school and runs the TSA program there and loves it. Do you have any advice or tools for someone who hasn't been doing it that long?

drfoland2 karma

We actually have a lot of elementary-aged curriculum that we're working on open-sourcing. If your husband would like to get involved with that, send me a message!

neuromorph2 karma

Did you decide to leave academia before or after your tenure review?

Henry_Darcy1 karma

I see he was a senior lecturer, so probably non-tenure-track. Not that it matters either way, he says he's an educator.

drfoland3 karma

That's correct - I actually opted in to that route, and was up front with my department head that I was most likely only going to be with the university for as long as it took our university's BMEN program to gain ABET accreditation. My appointment was technically 50/50 faculty / administrative. We passed our first full ABET audit in fall 2017, and I officially departed in summer 2018 with no hard feelings on either side.

3legged2 karma

What mix of substance will you take to be able to stay 24 hours awake?

drfoland3 karma

Caffeine and adrenaline.

Haircutchet2 karma

How unhealthy is it to stay up for 24 hours?

drfoland5 karma

It's not good for you and I don't recommend it... But it's for a good cause.

drfoland4 karma

I should note that I'm not expecting any of my students to stay up and watch the entire thing - it will be archived on Twitch if they want to go back and watch later.

techmighty2 karma

What does mitochondrial DNA mean?

drfoland3 karma

What a random question! Since the top comment was about the powerhouse of the cell, I've got to answer this.

Mitochondria are kind of their "own thing" in the cellular world. Whereas other organelles are created by cellular processes driven by the organism's DNA, mitochondria grow and reproduce on their own. They are actually very similar to bacteria. In fact, it is hypothesized that early eukaryotes formed a symbiotic relationship with bacteria. It's win-win, really - the "bacteria" (mitochondria) get additional protection from the outside world, and the eukaryotic cell gets a new power plant!

Mitochondria have their own DNA which is much shorter in length than a eukaryotes DNA, and (importantly) it reproduces asexually. All of you mitochondrial DNA came from your mother, hers came from her mother, etc. (sperm do contain some mitochondria, but only in the tail and it does not assimilate into the egg). This is very useful for genealogical research, as it is much easier to trace ancestors through mitochondrial DNA because it isn't getting "shuffled around" every generation through sexual reproduction. The disadvantage is that it can only trace ancestors through the maternal line.

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drfoland4 karma