February 01, 2009

Future Docs and Forums (and a bit about Family Feuds)

My witterings today will be more in tune with the true definition of the word than some of my previous posts, because there are a few unrelated topics currently occupying my thoughts.

Eucalyptus macrocarpa in a street near my house.

Last week I resumed my teaching role in the Notre Dame University Medical School, and met one of the groups of students with whom I will be working this semester. They are in the second year of their graduate programme, and come from an astonishing variety of backgrounds, including a former plumber, a pharmaceutical sales rep, an occupational therapist, and a lawyer.
I find it very stimulating to work with people who have made such a big decision: to leave their previous professions and invest a lot of money to study full-time for 4 long years, just because of their desire to practise Medicine. In many cases they already have families and children, so the decision is not just an economic one, and it affects more than just the student. The families of these students will also ride the ups and downs throughout the course, and share the anxiety and uncertainty, the discoveries and the sense of achievement. I am very proud of my small role as a guide on this journey, and I wish "MED200 PBL11" all the very best for this year!

I have never been a great enthusiast of internet forums and chatrooms, and my participation has been almost exclusively related to my role as a volunteer editor in the vast internet directory known as DMOZ/ODP. There are official internal DMOZ forums restricted to editors, an editor-only chatroom, and an unofficial but editor-run public ODP forum called Resource Zone. Over the years I have learned a great deal about how such forms of communication work, but at the beginning I had absolutely no idea of even the most basic mechanisms:
  • I didn't know how to choose which thread to post in
  • I couldn't understand any of the acronyms and abbreviations (YMMV, IMO, AFAIK, HTH, OTOH etc)
  • I had no idea how to correct mistakes in my posts
  • I didn't know how to quote people or include links and other features
  • More to the point, I didn't even know where to look for these instructions and explanations!
It was bewildering and nerve-wracking, because many of the "old hands" seemed to have very little patience with bumbling newbies like me. Now that I'm an "old hand" too, I frequently remind myself what it was like at the beginning, and try to be patient when explaining something for the umpteenth time to a forum newbie. For those times when I don't quite manage it, I hereby offer a public apology. 
Of course this apology is not extended to those experienced but lazy forum posters who simply don't bother to read previous comments, find any of the hundreds of existing threads on the same topic, or even to look at the FAQ section. I reckon they deserve any terse response they get! 

As you can see from my title, I was going to post about the distressing and usually completely pointless disagreements that occur within families. Naturally I have a personal take on this, which I was going to carefully avoid by commenting in general about how easily most of these divisive situations could be resolved if people were prepared to be both honest and respectful with each other. That shouldn't be difficult, in most families, but sadly it seems to be so. The sadness of it is what prevents me writing more about the subject, even in the abstract. I'll just have to continue living in hope that a younger generation may be more willing to build bridges. Sigh.

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