“What do you think?”
Four undergrads—all science majors and members of a UVA genetic engineering competition team—had gathered around a second-floor conference room table in the Physical and Life Sciences building for much of the afternoon to debate project concepts. They were getting ready to pick one project—heavy stuff like creating miniature cells from modified bacteria that can deliver antibiotics, using microbes to stop gene expression—and run with it to work on through the summer and fall to turn it from idea into reality.
As they sit around post-meeting to scarf cookies, prop their feet on the table, and talk to a reporter about their self-directed research, about beating MIT at last year’s regional competition, and about changing the world with science, a question from an older team member came from across the room: “What do you think?”
Did they like the competitive nature of the idea selection process, the way they had split into groups, worked all semester on proposals, and were now arguing for the survival of their own projects?
There was a pause before they chimed in, just long enough for the words to hang in the air for a moment.
“What do you think?”
A mundane little sentence, maybe. A simple conversational turn. But is there any question more basic to an institution devoted to disseminating knowledge? Research, read, write, process, teach, tell, but above all, ask: What do you think?
For this year’s UVA issue, which hits stands as another crop of students gets ready to turn their tassels, we sought out some of the most interesting discussions happening on Grounds. The biology and engineering undergrads putting their heads together to develop a new drug delivery system. A new wave of Darden thinkers figuring out how to teach innovation. Black historians exploring the future of race relations by turning a documentarian’s eye on the University’s past. Professors pushing the boundaries of the classroom and teaching tens of thousands of eager students online. Ask them “What do you think?” and you can bet you’ll want to stick around for the answer. Stories by Graelyn Brashear and Laura Ingles.