In a previous blog I wrote “When you get the chance publicize the importance and contributions of biomechanics. Let us all work to raise our profile.” In the following I am going to emphasize this with respect to university curricula. Over the last year on a number of occasions I have been part of discussions about the role of biomechanics in university curricula. The University of Bologna was founded in 1088, and it is likely that their curricula have evolved significantly since then. Evolution of an area of study is inevitable and therefore so is curricular reform, consequently promoting the role of biomechanics in various curricula is an important issue for all biomechanists. The role of biomechanics is an important consideration in these curricula. Not all of our membership teaches at an institution of higher learning, but we all received our training from such institutions and typically recruit new employees with training from them so we are all invested in ensuring the (prominent) role of biomechanics in curricula.
Talking to fellow biomechanists at conferences I hear a litany of observations about university life. There are increased undergraduate student numbers, less well prepared students entering programs, reduced resources, increased administrative burdens, and unwarranted curricula reforms. It is remarkable that I hear this from biomechanists from all around the world. Cynics would say that academics have always made these complaints; but when, for example, undergraduate numbers triple in a ten year period without a commensurate increase in faculty numbers, at least some of these complaints are not illusionary. Many of the (perceived) problems are beyond our control, but here I would like to encourage our membership to examine and promote biomechanics in their respective curricula.
Biomechanics research and education took a significant boost in the US from the investments of The Whitaker Foundation. That foundation was founded and funded by Uncas Whitaker (1900-1975). Unlike many foundations they planned to spend all of their funds, US$700 million, by July, 2006. The foundation helped create 30 biomedical engineering programs throughout the US, and helped finance 13 new buildings. The legacy of the foundation persists, but of course they will make no new investments. These programs help promote biomechanics, but there is still work we can all do as advocates for biomechanics.
With the explosion of knowledge there are often battles fought for what topics are covered in the curricula. Twenty years ago consideration of genetic factors was a minor part of many curricula now it competes for a significant portion of curricula time. Using the number of students enrolled in degrees of sport and exercise sciences as a metric, in many countries such programs are the most popular degrees. I have been consulted by undergraduate programs in sport and exercise science where the plan was to have no compulsory biomechanics class(es). While acquiescing to such curriculum reforms might reduce an ISB member’s class size, it does not help promote the importance of biomechanics. As biomechanists we can make a strong case that biomechanics should be a cornerstone of such curricula – in fact we should make that case.
In the US the amount of biomechanics in the curricula of trainee orthopedic surgeons has shown a significant decrease over the last two decades; I suspect the same is true elsewhere. Once again biomechanics is competing with other important areas. A good working knowledge of biomechanics seems essential for an orthopedic surgeon, but this cannot be covered in the few lectures remaining in many programs. There are many important new advances in biomechanics which relate to orthopedics which would also be valuable in such curricula.
As biomechanists once again I am asking you to be advocates for biomechanics, this time in any curricula you can influence. I would hope there is uniformity amongst the membership of the ISB of the value of biomechanics in various curricula; so let us collectively be strong advocates for biomechanics.
Penn State University