The science and society concentration will graduate its first class of six seniors this spring. The concentration, which integrates sciences and the humanities to examine science’s social implications, was approved this year after several years of student and faculty initiative.
“It’s a really important area of both scholarship and the world that really wasn’t being addressed,” said Professor of Biology Anne Fausto-Sterling PhD’70, who serves as the concentration’s adviser and chair of the Committee on Science and Technology Studies, which advocated for the concentration.
Science and society provides “a context for how science is done, thought about and applied,” said Phil Brown, professor of sociology and also a member of the science and technology studies committee. Brown said the concentration’s inception began around eight years ago, when a group of faculty who “all had interest in different areas” of science and the humanities formed a study group that eventually became the committee.
Even before the committee began the process of creating a new concentration, students pursued independent concentrations in the subject area. Even without a department, these students formed a department undergraduate group and began hosting outside speakers.
“Students became really important allies in thinking about the concentration and helping to design it,” Fausto-Sterling said. “It was 50-50 with students.”
The concentration includes two required courses, SC 49: “Introduction to Science Studies” and SC 190: “Senior Seminar in Science and Society.” Students must also take three courses in one of several thematic tracks, such as gender and science or health and medicine. In addition, concentrators must take four courses in one of three sciences – physical sciences, life sciences or mathematics – and three courses in a category called science studies theory. Science studies theory courses include classes in rhetoric and modern culture and media.
Fausto-Sterling said the concentration prepares students interested in medicine, public policy, law, museum studies and any academic disciplines. “It opens up all sorts of interesting work potential,” she said.
Blanche Greene-Cramer ’07 said her plan to become a biomedical engineer changed when she realized she enjoyed the humanities as much as science. “I wondered how valid doing one or the other really was,” she said.
Greene-Cramer eventually chose biology as her primary science, and health and medicine as her thematic track. She said her science and society concentration has given her “a fairly unique perspective. … I know the science behind a lot of what I’m studying, but I also have a critical humanities lens.” She has applied to a graduate program in public health and a joint master’s program between U.S. universities and the Peace Corps.
Though Greene-Cramer said the concentration seemed “sort of unorganized” because it is so new and it was sometimes difficult to “draw the connections between individual classes,” she concluded that “it’s a really great way to take advantage of the open curriculum at Brown.”
Concentrator Daniel Sonshine ’07 said the “ways of thinking about subjects from different perspectives” was a valuable part of the concentration. Sonshine, who plans to attend medical school, said concentration advising was unorganized “since it’s new,” but that “it’s been a great experience.”
“I could have come out of this school without knowing how to write a real essay,” he said, laughing.
“Interest will just continue to grow” after this year’s graduating class of six students, Fausto-Sterling said. She noted that she has recently spoken with at least 10 to 12 sophomores interested in declaring science and society as their concentration. “It’s worked out much better even than we could have hoped for,” Brown said.
“As soon as I read about the science and society concentration, I knew it was the one for me,” said Carly Lochala ’09, who plans to concentrate in science and society. “Exploring the field of science from different perspectives really appeals to me.”