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Xavier Magazine | August 24, 2017

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What You Should Know

To help you catch up on what you might have forgotten since graduating, we asked faculty members to create a handy primer on a handful of subjects:

BIOLOGY

Charles Grossman, Professor of biology
1. Biology is the scientific study of the environment and how organisms interact. Everyone should understand the scientific process, which is when you propose a hypothesis, set up a test with controls to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, you change the hypothesis. The scientist must remain objective. Having a preconceived notion is not science.
2. Life is an organism with a variety of characteristics that when combined form a living system. To be living, an organism must have: a metabolism; mobility; respiration; energy-trapping ability like food or sunlight; homeostasis, such as maintaining a core temperature; reproduction; and the capability to grow and evolve—to adapt to changing environments.
3. The smallest single living organism on the planet is the cell. The cell is the organizational unit that traps energy, carries on homeostasis and maintains itself with energy and water. As it reproduces itself by dividing, building up and multiplying, it becomes a more complicated structure of tissue and whole organisms. Before it becomes a living cell, it begins as electrons and protons in the nuclei of atoms, which form molecules that make up the chemical elements that form the cell.
4. Dissection, yes. Classification, no. Even the non-scientist should have to dissect an earthworm or frog. Pictures don’t show the three-dimensional ways organisms are put together. But learning the Latin names of all living things and their classification system—kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, species—was a boring ninth grade biology assignment. You don’t need to know that unless you’re a biology major, especially if you’re studying different organisms, anthropology or genetics.
5. Evolution and religion are separate entities. Evolution is science. Religion is not. They can live together and not be at odds because they are completely different. I tell students who argue with me that it’s your choice to believe or not, but you must know evolution to pass the test.
6. The study of biology helps people understand complex social issues. Students are exposed to many issues, some controversial, like global warming, stem cell research, the ozone hole, artificial intelligence and how the brain works. I’m trying to make them see what the world is like so they can understand what they’re reading about. These people are voting, and they need to make informed decisions.

MUSIC

Morten Kristiansen, Assistant professor of musicology

1. Exposure equals understanding. For classical music, really one basic thing you need to know is a basic outline of who, when, where and what. Who is Bach? Who is Mozart? Who is Beethoven? When were they? What were they doing? What does the music sound like? Why do you or don’t you like it? Why don’t you hear it anywhere?

2. Classical music is for everyone. People think of it as an elite thing—something only for old white people who have a lot of money. Whereas, of course, if you put on a piece of classical music, some famous piece like Beethoven’s 5th Symphony—ba-ba-ba-baam—then everybody’s heard it somewhere; everybody can enjoy it; and it just shows it’s not really for the elite.

3. Enjoy the drama of opera. The main misconception is, of course, that it’s a bunch of people howling as loud as they can on very high notes that are unpleasant to listen to. You need to know that it’s almost like a movie with a slightly more elaborate soundtrack, where the soundtrack is more important than anything else. But it’s a flesh-and-blood drama, and once you get drawn into the story, you stop worrying so much about whether they’re singing high notes or whether they’re really loud or whatever they might be.

4. There is art in rock music—sometimes. As we can see with people like The Beatles, they’re considered sort of the epitome of the art side of popular music. But they’re also very popular. It is possible for the two to converge, they just don’t often do that.

5. Respect your roots. You can’t just write something off, like the blues, for example. You might think, “Oh, that’s 1930s to the ’50s, old stuff.” But as it turns out, the blues influenced most rock musicians. That might be one of the most important things that people need to learn is that something like the blues really has infused any number of things later on. In a way, rock came out of the blues. In fact, most early rock ’n’ roll, Elvis and all that stuff, is really based on blues. Heavy metal came out of the blues. Southern rock is very blues-oriented. So you have a number of different genres that really all came out of the blues. That may be the biggest wellspring of music.

ACCOUNTING

Sandra Richtermeyer, Chair, department of accountancy

1. Accountants are service providers. They provide information that’s useful for decision support, planning and control. In all aspects of business, accountants help guide decision-making and demonstrate how well operations are performing. They also make sure agreed-upon principles and procedures are being followed.

2. Accounting has become more forward-thinking and analytical. That’s different than learning debits and credits, which is what many people think of with accounting. The trend is that accountants are an integral part of all functional areas of business, such as marketing, human resources, operations, logistics and other treasury functions. They also provide reports on operations. A lot of what we see in the press revolves around Sarbanes-Oxley, and that’s really for publicly traded companies, but a lot of those principles and procedures can be very useful to businesses of any size.

3. Accountants aren’t just cops and scorekeepers. That’s how a lot of people view accountants—that they come in and tell you when you’re doing something wrong. But that’s really not the case anymore. Now they’re business partners, meaning they’re right there with the people making decisions.

4. It’s really important to link strategy to accounting information. Accounting information should support a business’s strategy—it should be linked to it. Organizations that fail to link their strategy to their accounting information don’t get the most they can get from their accounting function.

5. Accountants can keep track of anything, not just dollars. Accountants can’t just stay in their offices. They need to get out there and understand what makes the business run. They can’t just report on economic transactions, which is what, in the old days, triggered an accounting function. Now, any event can trigger an accounting function. We focus very much on financial and non-financial performance measures in our accounting information. We don’t just report dollars.

PHILSOPHY

Michelle Brady, Associate professor of philosophy

1. Philosophy is personal. One misconception is there are smart, dead white guys who are ready to give us the answers. And it’s either, “I want them to give me the answers,” or, “They think that they’re going to give me the answers, and my opinion is as good as theirs.” It’s not about figuring out what they said; it’s about learning to ask the right questions about what they said and thinking about it yourself, which is a lot more work. You have to explore them for yourself. More generally, the idea is to learn to figure out what these people were talking about, why they believed the type of things they did, and why you believe what you believe.

2. Read Plato first. Everyone should read The Republic. Everything in there’s sort of the starting point for all of the big questions: What kind of person should I be? What can I know? All of the questions about if faith and knowledge are opposed to each other or can they work together? And the questions about reality—is there a reality to know or do we all make it up as we go along? And most of the fundamental alternatives for answering them get played out somewhere in there.

3. Read Descartes, Aquinas and Nietzsche next. How we approach the world, what we think human beings are and what we can know—all of that changes radically in the 1600s. Descartes is a big part of that. How did we start looking at the world the way we do now? Because we don’t look at it like Plato did or Aristotle did. Then there’s Thomas Aquinas, his theories and all those questions of faith and knowledge. And then I’d put Nietzsche there. Nietzsche came along and called everything into question.

4. Philosophy is alive and relevant. Another misconception is that philosophy deals with old questions that people used to be interested in, but we’ve either answered the questions or figured out that the answers don’t matter and none of this is relevant to our lives. But once you get into it, you realize that it infects your whole life.

FINANCE

Shelly Webb, Chair, Department of finance

1. Finance is designed to make decisions in business using mathematical analysis. You need to understand: (a) how financial markets work in order to decide where to fund projects and where to invest, and how the markets interrelate; (b) the global macroeconomy and its interrelationships with financial markets— how macroeconomic policies and conditions affect financial markets; and (c) how to value a company and its ventures. This is important strategically for a company to know what ventures to pursue. It’s also important for investors to know the value of a company and its prospects for growth.

2. All markets depend on having buyers and sellers who have access to information in order for an asset to be priced correctly through supply and demand. Whether it’s a market for stocks, bonds, options, pork bellies or foreign currency, they all work the same. Take the difference in the market for Euros and the real estate market. The dollar price of the Euro is very accurate and constantly changing as new information hits the market. It’s a 24/7 global market with a lot of savvy participants such as global banks, foreign exchange brokers, mutual funds, central banks, speculators and arbitragers. If you’re in an efficient market, you can feel comfortable the product is accurately priced. But in a market like real estate, it’s going to be riskier and even though there are opportunities to make a lot of money, there are a lot of opportunities to lose money. It’s a localized market with very few participants. It’s a riskier market where you have a greater chance of paying the wrong price for that asset.

3. There is no return without risk no matter how many bestsellers want to convince you otherwise. If you want a higher return, you have to be willing to take on more risk. This also means, from a firm’s perspective, if you are riskier than the average company, you are going to have to provide a greater return for your investors—your stockholders and your bondholders.

4. Finance goes beyond the glamour of the stock market. When most people think of finance, they think of stockbrokers. They think of Wall Street and all the exciting stuff. But in reality, there are many jobs in finance that aren’t as high profile but are very exciting and rewarding. When most people think of investing, they think of stocks, and it’s exciting to think about the products that companies make, and you tend to think that’s where the jobs are. But in reality, the bond market, which is a market for debt, is a much larger market. A bond is just a debt instrument that raises money to fund large investment projects. It all boils down to risk and return. The individuals or entities that invest in bonds assess the riskiness of a company’s debt and have a certain return they expect in order to compensate for the risk they take on.

PHYSICS

Steve Herbert, Chair, department of physics

1. Physics is a way of trying to understand how the universe works. Humans want to know where we fit in the universe and how things work. Before science, we turned to magic to exercise some control over our environment. The beginnings of astronomy go back to the ancient Sumarians who studied the skies. Astrology was magic with science mixed in to observe the sky and correlate it with life. That led to the science of the universe and our whole history.

2. Science is an ongoing process. Every scientist knows our most cherished scientific models might be pitched if enough new data contradict the model. Johannes Kepler modeled the planets’ motion using elliptical orbits but didn’t know why they worked. Isaac Newton, who invented Calculus to explain the orbits, discovered gravity and the three laws of motion to explain the orbits, but he didn’t know why gravity worked. Albert Einstein explained how gravity works and thus tossed out Newton’s law.

3. Newton’s laws of motion are fundamental to understanding the physical world. The law of inertia says objects moving in a straight line remain at a constant velocity unless they’re acted upon by an outside force. The second law is the formula, force equals mass times acceleration, where a change in velocity occurs when a force is applied. Finally, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

4. Newton discovered the law of gravity. His formula, the law of universal gravitation, told us the strength of the force with which two masses attract each other, but it couldn’t explain why. For 300 years, Newton’s model was accepted and was considered a law. But it took Einstein to explain why.

5. Einstein’s theory of relativity explained how gravity works. Einstein treated gravity as geometry and proposed space-time curvature, where space is curved by massive objects and mass follows this curvature of space. His theory also says that energy can be converted into matter and vice versa, or E=MC2. When two particles of matter—an electron and its antimatter twin, the positron—meet up, they annihilate each other and create pure energy, just like in our sun.

CHEMISTRY

Dan McLoughlin, Chair, department of chemistry

1. Chemistry is the study of matter and its transformations. Gases like nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur oxides transform within our atmosphere into other compounds that are considered pollutants such as ozone, nitric acid and sulfuric acid. The burning of coal produces carbon dioxide, another compound that we are beginning to understand is polluting our atmosphere. Understanding these simple transformations can assist us in creating technologies that will help minimize these and other pollutants. Chemistry also allows us to create other positive technological transformations such as plant products into clothing and pharmaceuticals, oil and coal into a variety of useful products such as gasoline and plastics, and bacterial products into useful medicines.

2. The production of energy always creates pollution. There is no free ticket for our high-energy consumption. For example, the idea that we can have pollution-free energy by using hydrogen that produces only water as a waste product overlooks that this energy economy will have many high-energy needs. A hydrogen energy economy requires that we produce and transport hydrogen gas. This production and transportation alone will require a tremendous amount of polluting energy input before we can gain any energy benefit. Our atmosphere has improved in many ways over the past half century, but we still have a long way to go in reducing our man-made pollutants.

3. Some of our misguided efforts actually cause pollution. For example, a mistaken symbol of our nation’s apparently poor water system is bottled water. Individuals do not seem to understand that most of our nation’s water—and Cincinnati’s water in particular—is of very good quality. In most cases, using bottled water does not appear to be an environmentally or healthy decision. The production of bottles from oil requires energy. The water then needs to be transported by truck using even more energy. Most of the empty bottles are not recycled. This is a burden upon our environment.

4. Many chemistry concepts conflict with the notion that man-made products are bad and nature is good. Man-made preservatives have protected our food supply from a variety of toxins. Man-made pharmaceuticals have increased our life expectancy and protected us from a variety of diseases. And man-made household products have liberated us from much of nature’s turmoil. Our students learn that these products are a result of planned chemical transformations.

5. You don’t have to know the table of elements by heart. None of our students is required to memorize the elements of the periodic table. There are about 90 naturally occurring elements and approximately two dozen more that have been created since the atomic revolution in the 1940s. The table of elements has common features that repeat within the table. Students are introduced at various levels pertaining to the regular repeating properties of the elements.

PSYCHOLOGY

Cindy Dulaney, Associate professor of psychology

1. Psychology is a science. We use scientific methodology to examine psychological and behavioral issues. Like other sciences, many of our conclusions are based on inferences regarding things that cannot be directly observed. For example, emotions, memories and thoughts are not available for direct observation, just as gravity, hunger and motion aren’t. We study the construct of attention by presenting individuals with information with varying presentation duration, content, familiarity, etc. Then we infer “attention” based on the output provided by participants. Similarly, we infer the construct of “hunger” based on stomach contractions, blood sugar levels and caloric intake.

2. Psychologists do more than just analyze people. There’s a whole gamut. There’s research. There’s neuropsychology, which is brain and behavior functions, and the chemistry of the brain. There’s cognitive psychology, which is studying memory and attention. There’s engineering or human-factors psychology, which is thinking about the human user interacting with machinery. It’s amazing when they design stuff how they forget human users have attention and memory limitations. For example, when you hear “pilot error” in a crash, many times it’s a human-factors error, where something was designed in a certain way that made sense to engineers, but they forgot about the limited capacity of the human using it.

3. Psychology is applicable to almost any career. Psychological principles are important in everything from child rearing to behavioral economics and from management of others in the workplace to the effect of neurotransmitters on behavior. Psychologists are employed in private clinical practices, hospitals, educational institutions, management, human resources, marketing, economics. A lot of our psych minors are occupational therapy majors, because the principles of reinforcement in working with children and motivation are what you need to know when you’re trying to get people to stick to their therapy, to do the exercises they’re supposed to do.

4. Psychology develops critical thinking. Psychologists learn how to be critical consumers of information. They have be critical thinkers to overcome the Dr. Phil’s and Dr. Laura’s, the self-help books based on anecdotal experiences or case studies of one person, the “latest finding” about a cure for depression or eating disorders, for example, that are based on a single, unreplicated study or an “expert’s” opinion. Students must be prepared to critically evaluate the methodologies used to derive reported findings to separate the hype from sound research.

BUSINESS ETHICS

Paul Fiorelli, Director, center for business ethics and social responsibility

1. There’s a difference between legal duties and ethical responsibilities. Laws are what we must do; ethics are what we ought to do. Laws are right vs. wrong. They’re easier. Ethics are more right vs. right—what happens when we have conflicting duties. Say your boss tells you to call your competitors to see what their prices are so you can match the price. That’s easier to say no to because it’s a violation of price-fixing. But what happens if you overhear your friend making the call? After he hangs up, you ask him about the call and he tells you to mind your own business. Now you have this conflicting responsibility of loyalty. You have your friend, whom you’re not sure is in violation, and the company, which is obligated to follow the law but also employs you. How do you deal with that? Push back? Ask more questions? Ignore it?

2. We don’t live on ethical Islands. Most of us consider ourselves ethical, and even more ethical than others we work with. That makes us feel like we’re alone on an ethical island. In reality, though, we’re not. If we talk about ethics in the workplace, we realize others share the same views as we do. It’s empowering. So when the boss tells us to do something wrong, knowing that empowers us to say no and push back.

3. You have to look at the culture of the entire organization. You can’t just look at the top. You have to look at ethical behaviors throughout the organization—in the middle and bottom as well. Your real cues are taken from your boss and your boss’s boss. If they aren’t ethically sound, that’s a problem because your life depends on them.

4. You have to be willing to bring bad news forward. If there’s a level of trust where you can tell your boss about a potential problem, he will have to devote some time to putting out fires. The good news is, though, the fires will be small brush fires rather than large infernos you read about on the front page of The Wall Street Journal.

5. Talking about ethics won’t turn a bad person into a good one. There’s a process called cognitive moral development that is broken down into three phases: preconventional, which is how does what I do effect me? Conventional, which is how does what I do effect the people around me? And post-conventional, which is how does what I do effect society as a whole—like Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who willingly performed acts of civil disobedience and faced the penalty because it benefited society as a whole. What talking about ethics can do is help people move from one phase to the next. But if you’re not interested in ethics, then it doesn’t make any difference.

ECONOMICS

Jamal Abu-Rashed, Chair, department of economics

1. Importing vs. exporting. One of the most important reasons for the rise in the standard of living across the world over the past five centuries is the great increase in international trade. If you go back to the mercantilist view in the 1700s and 1800s, it was taught that a nation could increase its wealth if it exported more than it bought from other nations. This notion might make sense, but it does not take into account the value of the product purchased. In other words, the benefit of the trade is consumption rather than production. So, there is more wealth when you import more than what you export because the product that you bought has a value.

2. It pays to trade. This mercantilist view of trade continued until economist David Ricardo’s Principles of Political Economywas published in 1817. In his book, he promoted his theory of comparative advantage, which explains why specialization and free trade are such beneficial forces. Ricardo said that it pays for countries to trade because they are different. For example, the United States’ relative efficiency in labor-intensive products is less than, say, airplane manufacturing. In other words, it behooves us to focus our resources on the production of airplanes as opposed to products such as clothing. Also, our resources are limited and we have to make choices. Even the United States, the richest country in the world, has limited resources. Consequently, our production capability of what to produce is always limited.

3. The saving resources concept. So, if I have a fixed amount of resources to distribute among two things and am relatively more efficient at producing airplane engines than clothing, I put all the resources into engines and then I buy the clothing from Mexico at a lower price. The savings from the resources enables me to produce more engines than what I used to produce before. People might say the United States is the richest country in the world, so why don’t we close our borders and produce everything here? Can we produce coffee in this country? Yes, but it is very expensive. So instead of putting all the resources into producing coffee, I would rather buy it from Brazil at a lower price and use the extra resources that I saved to produce something that could benefit my own people and that I could export to the rest of the world.

4. The case for comparative advantages. It is impossible for a country to have no comparative advantage in anything. So it may be the least efficient at everything, but still has a comparative advantage in the industry in which it’s electively least bad. The United States probably has an absolute advantage in everything, but yet we don’t have a comparative advantage in everything. So specialization and resources allocation should increase the total world output and, hence, the standard of living of all citizens in the world.

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