Saturday, August 06, 2016

I Really Did Work in Oxford

View from the Old Library (where my lectures were)
People ask my family members and me what I did in Oxford. Despite my weekend excursions shown in pictures on Facebook, I really did work in Oxford. The two months in Oxford are just a part of the whole Bridging the Two Cultures (BTC) program that I've been fortunate enough to participate in this past year.

Lady Margaret Hall: where I lived and attended lectures.
Like last summer, there were two types of weekdays in Oxford. Usually, three days a week, I had lectures and workshops to attend. These were long days where I had to be engaged (supposed to be) - listening, thinking, and processing. The audience members could visit with the speakers during the breaks (two a day) and lunch. While last year, the lecturers were from the humanities, this year, the talks were given by scientists with a philosophical and/or theological theme. I struggled last summer to understand the talks, but this year was better. Part of it was because some of the lectures were science talk. After a year of being engaged with the humanities, I'm also a little more comfortable in the non-science world. Some of the lectures will directly benefit my classes - both my science majors and non-major courses. I'm excited to implement new information into my lectures. This is one of the reasons why a program like this can be so revitalizing.

Taking a quick picture during lecture.
Research days were filled with writing and meeting with mentors and tutors. My proposed project that I submitted with my application focused on molecular symmetry and theological implications of observed design. Over the past year, that project morphed into a collaboration with a philosopher from the BTC program that outlines an argument for beauty and truth being linked in the case of molecular symmetry. We got to present the joint paper at two conferences this past year; one being a conference in Canada that I got to run a half marathon, too. While the experience and feedback at the conferences proved to be helpful, the feedback we received on the project in Oxford was invaluable. Many of the mentors and tutors have suggested some theological paths to go with the project which will be interesting to work on next. The peer groups were probably the most helpful with the present paper. The natural scientists and philosophers pushed hard on parts of the argument uncovering the weak points. It was during the third week or so that the argument got refined based upon the feedback our peers offered. Hopefully another conference and ultimately a publication will result. I also got to do a little work on a survey that a biology peer is working on  as well. Seeing the initial results of his work has been interesting.
Writing at a local cafe with friends.
It's from my work on the philosophical treatment of molecular symmetry and another science/philosophy project that I've discovered that...I kinda like philosophy (gasp!). That's gasp-worthy because I hated did not appreciate my undergraduate philosophy course at all. I wish I could go back to my 21-year-old self and tell her to pay attention to what she's reading because it would be handy for later. (I'm reminded of a similar undergraduate happening involving circuits in physics and differential equations. I skipped both (or as much as I could) but guess what? I needed circuits and differential equations for graduate work so I had to learn them anyway. Ah, the naive young thinking.) I'm learning to appreciate the framework that philosophy can offer when thinking about certain topics, especially about God. That's probably another reason why I've loved my time in this program. I've discovered something else that I like almost as much as chemistry - enough that I want to read and absorb more of it.
Pages of notes
One of the neat and most unexpected things that resulted from my involvement with the BTC project is that I ended up meeting people of the Museum of the Bible (MOTB) project. I got asked to serve on a planning grant team meeting in Oxford this past summer, too. I got to meet some great people and my respect for what MOTB is trying to do grew even more.

While my time with the BTC grant is about up, there are some related activities that will take place over the next couple years. Besides my continued work on the projects, my institution will also host a related play and there will be a North American reunion of the BTC participants where we can update each other about our projects. The life-long friends and contacts I've made in the program is probably the most important thing I've gained in the program. I now know several other professors in a cross-section of disciplines that are passionate about science & religion. Of course, contacts like that will be helpful when I have academic questions or am looking for more scholarly collaborations, but I am especially thankful for these new friends. But that's another blog post.

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