Science And Technology in Society

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | March 30, 2009 10:59 am

I’m back from the 2009 Science and Technology in Society Conference in DC where I really enjoyed meeting so many terrific graduate students interested in pursuing science and policy. I was there to discuss my career path–which admittedly, isn’t something I planned as a scientist turned radio DJ turned policy wonk turned blogger and author.  I emphasized the benefits of an interdisciplinary education and reminded everyone there are many ways to pursue a career in science.  The best advice I have echoed the message of the morning’s keynote address by James Turner, former Chief Counsel to the Committee on Science and Technology: Follow your passion.

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Here I am on the career panel with Todd LePorte of George Mason University and Debra Mathews of the Berman Institute of Bioethics at Johns Hopkins University. The conference was a wonderful opportunity to explore the myriad of intersections between science, policy, and society and we should be having these conversations as often as possible.

I also moderated a thought-provoking graduate student panel on education where I was extremely impressed with the presentations–so much so, that every morning this week, I’ll be highlighting a panelist’s topic and posing a related question to readers from the discussion that followed. Here’s what we have to look forward to:

Tuesday: Megan Anderson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The science in the News: A Useful Tool or Distracting Target in the Pursuit of Scientific Literacy?

Wednesday: Christine Luk, Arizona State University

Engaging Women in Science and Technology Policy-making: Beyond the Paradox of Under-representation of Women

Thursday: Fei Guo, Southeast University, Nanjing, China, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The Absense of Engineering Ethics in China and its Solutions: An STS Perspective

Friday: Reynold Galope, Georgie State and Georgia Tech

Defining a Comparison Sample to Measure the Effect of Institutional Factors on Highly Creative Scientific Research: Issues and Options

As you can see, a very interesting mix of subjects that will be fun to discuss here…

Comments (12)

  1. pete

    I’m very interested in Thursday’s topic. Ethics is something rarely discussed at science conferences for students.

  2. Erasmussimo

    Sheril, I’d like to offer a thought for your consideration. I begin with the observation that on several occasions I have seen commenters here questioning your credentials as a scientist. I next observe that the photographs you present always show a big bright smile on your face. And this story drove the point home to me. Observe the miens of the three people in the photo. Mr. LePorte is self-assured and anticipatory; Ms. Mathews appears thoughtful and serious. You look like you’re trying too hard to look pleasant.

    I think you would do better to project greater gravitas. Central to this endeavor is the acknowledgement of your own worthiness. I am on thin ice here, engaging in ignorant speculation, but I have seen far too many talented young women sell themselves short and rely on social charm when their intellectual chops are already impressive. You don’t need to charm anybody; you’ve earned your status. There’s a bit of a vicious circle operating here: you start with some small uncertainty about yourself; you compensate with some charm; aggressive males read your charm as an attempt to compensate for lack of talent (rather than lack of confidence); they assault you; this makes you less self-confident; you compensate with even greater charm. Do not get caught up in this vicious circle!

    The short, easy answer, unfortunately, is to “act more like a man” — which I confess is an ignoble recommendation that acquiesces to evil. It would be wonderful if you could growl to yourself “Fuck ‘em — I know who I am and if some asshole thinks I’m just a pretty face, he can go fuck himself.” Unfortunately, that is likely not in your nature at this time. However, in the long run, your personal development will be to develop your Jungian animus just as the process of male maturation requires the development of Jungian anima.

    The longer answer is to spend some time with an older female mentor. Find a woman who’s fought these battles against obtuse males for decades. Sit down at her feet and ask her guidance. I think such a woman can help in ways beyond my abilities.

    Another point: public speaking works only when you are genuine. The moment you try to be someone other than who you truly are, you lose your personal connection with the audience. So you can’t simply plaster a grave look on your face and try to talk like Darth Vader. That’s not you, and the falseness of such an approach will be obvious to any audience. So the solution is not a matter of grabbing some new behavior pattern. The change must come from inside. That will take some years.

    I emphasize that I’m making a lot of wild guesses about your personality, so I offer this as only a set of thoughts for your consideration. I am probably way off on some points. But I hope that there are a few useful ideas in this comment, and that you will extract the useful material and reject the mistakes. I offer these comments solely for your private consideration; please do not respond.

  3. Carlie

    The short, easy answer, unfortunately, is to “act more like a man”

    Are you kidding me? You’re making snap judgments based on some candid photo as she’s watching another speaker? As someone who was there, I can tell you there were plenty of funny remarks during the conference, and smiling is allowed.

    Jeez. Get off your masochistic bandwagon.

  4. I emphasize that I’m making a lot of wild guesses about your personality, so I offer this as only a set of thoughts for your consideration. I am probably way off on some points. But I hope that there are a few useful ideas in this comment, and that you will extract the useful material and reject the mistakes. I offer these comments solely for your private consideration; please do not respond.

    LOON ALERT!

  5. mk

    Erasmussimo, I’d like to offer a thought for your consideration…

    A photograph reveals a split second in time. That is all.

  6. Mollie

    These are exactly the sorts of topics I’m interested in researching. Science is my passion, but I somehow ended up (long story) with a couple of degrees in social science. In fact, I had been thinking of asking on this blog or elsewhere how my social science knowledge can best benefit the science community. I’m glad to hear that scientists appreciate the research these students are doing.

  7. I would think that if you are writing about science, first and foremost you need to get the science right. Then you try to write it so that it has maximum impact. Include lots of history and anecdotes about inspiring scientists. Appeal to the basic childlike curiosity in each one of us. Drive home how science can be a “candle in the dark”. My own favourite science-related writers are Richard Rhodes, Freeman Dyson, James Gleick, George Johnson and Carl Zimmer.

  8. Observe the miens of the three people in the photo. Mr. LePorte is self-assured and anticipatory; Ms. Mathews appears thoughtful and serious. You look like you’re trying too hard to look pleasant.

    And here I was thinking, “Shit, how can she always look so damn interested in the subject when I’m sure I would have be caught on camera looking half asleep and/or bored if I had the travel schedule she does.”

    I emphasize that I’m making a lot of wild guesses about your personality …

    Jimminy Crunchy Fishsticks! Then. Don’t. Do. It.

    Is it the fact that it’s so friggin simple that makes it impossible for some people to avoid doing it?

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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