Tag: STEM

SciCom: The Slippery Business of STEM Promotion

“One thing is certain: When something is scientifically complex, it’s harder to understand and to communicate” (sciencebranding.com). Regardless of its accuracy, this is a commonly repeated sentiment across many public domains. However, this particular claim was produced within the branch of marketing known as Science Communications with the peculiar intent of convincing drug companies they need to hire “creatives” to extol the virtues of biochemistry to physicians. This is just one manifestation of the Science Communications field, which includes academic journals, NGOs, and PR firms. Armed with the more edgy truncation “SciCom” (or SciComm), the field increasingly resembles other promotional paradigms such as experience design (UX) and immersion marketing, wherein the goal is to seamlessly weave advertising into the condition of being alive. (read more...)

Writing Science: Viewing Science as Social Practice in the Composition Classroom

Composition endures, in fact thrives, at universities that are heavily invested in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. But, this also means that composition instructors who are primarily trained in the Humanities and Social Sciences may encounter more and more students whose interests and majors are (for some) somewhat alien. Put simply, STEM topics do not readily offer themselves up to make writing assignments for broad audiences, and students may struggle in constructing them. A further challenge in working with STEM students has to do with their dispositions toward critiques of science and ideology. Students in STEM fields may not have been exposed to the possibility that social norms have been packaged into scientific knowledge production, and they sometimes find such suggestions threatening. One way to productively engage students STEM topics is to highlight that science as a social practice. That is, science not entirely viewed as the ‘discovery’ of facts, but as a pursuit embedded within particular cultural and historical contexts. Scientific knowledge is produced and disseminated by people for other people, and so must follow the social and rhetorical codes of its times. Viewed in this way, scientists do not ‘reveal’ the nature of the world, but rather make arguments about it. As those arguments ‘go public,’ their authors take on a broader set of interests, concerns, presuppositions, and stakeholders than might be encountered among expert audiences. (read more...)

The Anti-Politics of Women in Tech

Almost daily are news articles about women in tech. Among these on the day I wrote this post, for example, were an article in Marie Claire, the women’s magazine, called “How Much Have Things Really Changed for Women in Technology?” and another in India’s business newspaper Mint titled “Two kinds of pay gap in the IT industry: NetApp’s Mark Bregman.” Both articles touch on several issues about women in tech, and STEM fields more generally; the cornerstone in each, however, is simply the number of women in the tech world—or the lack thereof, compared with men. This is a problem that has been explored since at least the mid-1970s in computer science (e.g., Montanelli Jr. and Mamrak 1976), longer for some other STEM fields. More recently this issue was highlighted last year, particularly in the media and public attention, when large tech companies like Google, Apple, Twitter, and Facebook released “diversity data” showing the dismal number of women and minorities among their employees. The articles also point to several issues seen as contributing to the disparities, including pay and hiring gaps for women, so-called “brogrammer” culture (involving frat-house-like sociality and performances of technical heroism, generally among men), and implicit biases shaping how women (and men) are perceived and judged. As a former woman in tech—I pursued an undergraduate degree in computer science—I appreciate how this surge in public awareness and interest is helpful to many, particularly in relation to discussions about sexism and tech cultures. Through social media, blogs, and news articles people are sharing and discussing personal experiences and working to further raise awareness of, and gain support for, challenges women as a group face in tech. Tech companies and governments have also pledged a great deal of money towards “fixing” this problem. (read more...)

Teaching the Anthropology of Outer Space

I think I’ve been most surprised by how effectively exploring anthropology in the context of [outer] space has educated me on anthropology in general. Having never taken a prior anthropology class, I think learning about it (and consequently, us) through a specific topic, such as space anthropology, has been a great way to learn. This is the kind of student endorsement that makes a professor’s heart sing. A few weeks ago, I asked students in my “Anthropology of Outer Space” class to provide me with some feedback on what “surprised” them most about this class. I did this to confirm a hunch that as much as the students were excited about outer space, they were becoming equally excited about anthropology. Sure enough, a third of the anthropology of outer space class said that what surprised them most was their interest in and the relevance of anthropology both for understanding human culture in general and science in specific. The class, I should note, is being taught at the University of Virginia, and cross-listed between the School of Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences. With two exceptions, the students are majoring in STEM fields. For many of the engineering students, this is their first humanities/social science class in college; for most every other student, their first anthropology class. (read more...)