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Adding the “P” Word

I read with interest the article “Managing the Unmanageable” that appeared in the December 2001 issue of Prism. I found intriguing the author's statement that “Bioinformatics could usher in a whole new era of individually tailored medicine.” In addition, Dr. Phyllis Gardner is quoted as saying that “[A] baby's genotype will be recorded, and a program of personalized immunizations, lifestyle management, and refined treatments will be developed to target disease.” These and similar statements have appeared in virtually all the articles I have read on the subject of bioinformatics in the past year.

However, any evaluation of the claims being made for the impact of bioinformatics must be examined in the context of current medical practice. Physicians who schedule 5-7 minute consultations per patient are hardly in the position to develop a “program of personalized immunizations”; doctors who deign to see a patient only after triage by a battery of physician assistants are unlikely to deal with questions of “lifestyle management”; and monthly cagmedication costs for generic (as opposed to “designer”) drugs that exceed the cost of a senior citizen's rent seem to indicate a much different scenario than that portrayed in your article.

If there are “boundaries to be pushed” and a “whole new order” to usher in (as is stated in the article), may I suggest that these include the patient—a word, I might add, that appears nowhere in the current article.

Andrew C. Kellie
Professor, Industrial and Engineering Technology
Murray State University

Broader Focus for NSPE

I just read “Time for a Change” in the March Prism, and a loud bravo and amen. The NSPE mentality is carried even to a further ridiculous extreme in my field of environmental engineering, in which the choke-hold over accreditation is the American Academy of Environmental Engineers, which, in addition to being zealous about the PE, also takes the position that unless you are a Diplomate of AAEE, you are not really an environmental engineer.

My own Ph.D. advisor, now deceased, was one of the first environmental engineering faculty members in the NAE and did not have a PE (nor even an “accredited engineering degree”). It is gratifying to see someone of the author's position stand up and take a side in this debate.

Charles N. Haas
Betz Professor of Environmental Engineering
Drexel University

Messy Classrooms Strike a Nerve

I have been a professor at UC Davis since 1976, and through the years I have noted a serious decline in student and faculty responsibility for keeping classrooms clean, as discussed in “Policing the Classroom” in the January issue of Prism. Where have we all gone wrong?

Several years ago, my campus plastered a series of posters on the walls of selected classrooms that were regularly really dirty. The posters contained the message: Pick up your trash, you wouldn't do this at home (the poster had a close-up shots of different irrate “grandmothers”), but even these didn't work. Eating in the MU or other places on campus, I regularly have to clean tables—students and faculty commonly just leave their messes behind.

I coordinated a speaker series this quarter and always have had to go to the room in advance to check out whether or not it was prepared. Once this quarter, the seminar tables had been stacked three deep, chairs overturned, and the room filled with trash and garbage. So much for common sense and reasonable responsibility.

Louis E. Grivetti
Professor, Department of Nutrition
University of California, Davis

I am a part-time lecturer at four San Diego universities, and “Policing the Classroom” was like a description of a day in my life. At one school in particular, every time I arrive for my class, the instructor before me has rearranged the desks into a horseshoe and left them in that position. The first five minutes of my class involve rearranging the classroom into a form I can use. When did common sense depart the lectern? It seems symptomatic of conditions in our society when the supposed role models no longer have good manners. Your article was quite, unfortunately, relevant.

John Mercurio
Political Science Instructor
San Diego, Calf.

Not One of the Boys

Thank you for January's article “Not Women Only,” reviewing the book “The Woman's Guide to Navigating the Ph.D. in Engineering & Science.” It is good to see publications—both in periodicals and books—addressing the paucity of women in engineering and providing thoughtful suggestions for the current batch of women striving for degrees. Simultaneously, however, while such publications are needed by some (many?) women currently in the graduate degree track, and while they address a large number of barriers blocking individuals, I feel that the article (and the book) only perpetuate the belief by graduate students, faculty, administrators, and others that we all must work toward a male standard of engineering and of engineering education. As Margaret Mannix writes in the article: “If females want to succeed in graduate school, they've got to be just as pushy, bossy, and aggressive as their male lab partners.” There is no discussion about why women should have to “act like the boys” in order to succeed.

Much of the literature written for women on how to succeed in graduate school follows the same path (and I would argue, makes the same mistakes) in direction and scope. While I appreciate the apparent thoroughness of the book, the down-to-earth perspective, and the variety of first-hand success stories it presents to a much marginalized population of engineers, I look forward to seeing any publications that provide suggestions for women and men on how to challenge the masculinized system of engineering education.

Alice Pawley
Doctoral student, Industrial Engineering
University of Wisconsin-Madison