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Speaking Out
May 4, 2010, Volume 56, No. 32

Research Technicians: Critical Thinkers

I have never read anything as insulting as Dr. Phyllis Solomon’s essay, Teaching Doctoral Research: Not Training Technicians in the pages of Almanac April 20, 2010. In it, Dr. Solomon voices the seldom said but pervasive belief that we research technicians are somehow beneath them.

What Dr. Solomon seems to not realize is that a good research technician is a “creative and critical thinker” and a “scientist.” She states her attitude clearly in her final paragraph and reinforces it with the snobbish quote of her high school chemistry teacher about plumbers. 

For her information, we research technicians know all too well that “a study that is technically well-designed, but cannot practically be implemented is not worth the effort”; because we are the ones who often have to do the real work of a study while remaining grounded in practicality. 

This essay should provoke an outburst of indignation, but I suspect that most research technicians who read it will simply shake their heads in acknowledging the commonplace.

Incidentally, this university cannot function without plumbers and I’m certain that neither Dr. Solomon’s former chemistry teacher’s school nor home could either. If she could deign herself to spend some time with one, she may be surprised at the amount of critical thinking required to solve our plumbing problems.

—Ralph R. Conti,
Research Technician, Pathobiology, School of Veterinary Medicine,
New Bolton Cente


In response to Mr. Conti’s comments regarding my essay that appeared in the April 20, 2010 issue of Almanac:

I in no way meant to disparage the significant contributions made by research technicians to the scientific enterprise. I was asked to write a brief essay about how I help doctoral students develop as scholars. My use of the word “technician” is in alignment with the dictionary definition (see Merriam-Webster Online www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/technician) in that I emphasize to my doctoral students that research involves much more than knowing the technical details of designing a research study. I was not alluding to the work done by research technicians.

—Phyllis Solomon,
School of Social Policy & Practice


Speaking Out welcomes reader contributions. Short, timely letters on University issues will be accepted by Thursday at noon for the following Tuesday’s issue, subject to right-of-reply guidelines. Advance notice of intention to submit is appreciated. —Eds.


Almanac - May 4, 2010, Volume 56, No. 32