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Academia must be made accessible to public

Last Tuesday, Carnegie Mellon hosted its first ever Three-Minute Thesis competition. The contest challenged Ph.D. students from multiple disciplines to distill the essence of their theses into three-minute presentations to give to an audience of non-specialists and be judged.

The Three-Minute competition, besides being an interesting venue for members of the campus community to see the research being conducted by graduate students, also hints at a larger problem facing academia at the moment: accessibility.

Public perception has never been kind toward academics. Professors and Ph.D. candidates have often been viewed as closed off, working on projects that can’t be explained without a seminar course on the jargon of their subject area. This distance between academia and the rest of our society has proven to be more damaging than beneficial.

America has a long-held grudge against academic culture. In our elections, we tend to value the triumphs of the common man while underplaying the accomplishments of the educated.

For a long period of our history, the highest level of education one could reasonably expect was a high school diploma, which may have contributed to a sense of disdain toward those who had the good fortune and opportunity to further their studies.

Now, with rising standards of education and national and global problems which require the backing of scientific research and investigation to solve, this distance must be eliminated. Academics must work to break down the barriers between them and the public, and members of the public must be willing to accept this.

Of course, there are highly scientific and mathematical topics which are difficult to discuss with those outside of the field. However, as a whole, academia should focus on becoming more inclusive, rather than exclusive.

The Tartan encourages initiatives such as the Three-Minute Thesis competition that work to soften the divide, making technological innovation and scientific progress accessible to the general public. It is only through this shift in rhetoric and attitude that we can work on making meaningful differences for our society.