Helping the needy through our vocation

Loren Haarsma (
Fri, 15 Jan 1999 15:23:54 -0500 (EST)

How can we, as science teachers and researchers, show
special concern for the poor and oppressed of this world?
How can we be a servant to them particularly in our vocation?

Those questions were raised for discussion at the recent InterVarsity
conference for Christian professors and graduate students. I thought
this group would be a good place to exchange ideas.

Here are some ideas we came up with on the drive home from the

==When hiring students to be research assistants, rather than
automatically chosing those with the highest grades and best experience,
we can also look for students who might be just as capable but have
lower grades or less experience because they come from poorer

==When looking for research collaborators, don't automatically chose
labs with strong reputations (and so try to "hitch your wagon to their
star"). Also look for less well-known labs who can do the work just as
well. (The research world is another area where the rich tend to get
richer and the poor, poorer. We can work against that.)

==When refereeing papers, giving talks, writing review articles, and so
forth, give credit to groups who do good work but are less well-known
than the "stars" of the field -- especially groups from poorer
countries. Be aware of and help publicize good work done at smaller or
less presitigious schools.

==Do science education outreach to the general public, elementary
schools and high schools. Do this especially for poorer schools with
less resources.

==Offer to tutor students who need help. (This can be especially
effective in your own church, and has the by-product of providing a role
of model of a scientist of faith. Just let the parents in your church
know that you're willing to tutor their children in science and math.)

==Try to teach in a way that *all* students in your class will be
challenged and learning. Don't teach in a way which benefits only the
top few students, thereby leaving the poorer students confused and
frustrated. Spend at least as much time helping the poorer students as
helping the better students. (But don't just teach to the poorer
students, either.)

==When advising, don't assume it's best for all students (or post-docs)
to take "the fast track" to a prestigious research career. Acknowledge
that they have other priorities in their lives. Give particular help
and encouragement to those who are doubting themselves and their

==Those who work in the applied sciences can sometimes chose research
projects which can especially help the poor and needy.

==Speak out on the need for ecological stewardship. (In the long run,
ecological problems will disproportionately hurt the poor.) Encourage
creative solutions to ecological problems which don't hurt the poor in
the short run.

==In personal conversations and use of personal money, be aware of the
needs of the poor -- especially in countries which often don't "make the
news." (This is not particular to scientists; rather, as scientists who
are members of society, we must do our share of this.)

==Be active in professional societies and encourage them, as
institutions, to champion the cause of the oppressed. An example of
this is when scientific societies speak out for scientists who are
unjustly imprisoned by repressive governments.


Loren Haarsma