Friday, February 15, 2013

Blog CXXXVIII (138): Eight Questions: Science, Technology, and Medical History

Today's post is a return to the Eight Question series. Joy Rohde is an assistant professor of history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. She received her BA from the University of Chicago and her Ph.D. from the Department of History and Sociology of Science at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research integrates the history of science with U.S. political and intellectual history. Her book, Hearts, Minds, and Militarization: Democracy and Expertise in the Age of Anxiety, is forthcoming from Cornell University Press. Tracing the rise and fall of university-based, Pentagon-funded social science in the Cold War, the book examines the role that scholars, policy experts, and think tanks have played in American national security policy. An article related to her research, “Gray Matters: Social Scientists, Military Patronage, and Democracy in the Cold War,” appeared in the Journal of American History in June 2009. Her current project is a comparative study of the myriad ways social science has been used to understand, manage, and control the citizens, colonial subjects, and perceived enemies of the American state from the late nineteenth century to the War on Terror.

At Trinity, Rohde teaches introductory and upper level courses in 20th century U.S. intellectual history, the Cold War, and the history of science and technology. Before joining Trinity, she was a postdoctoral fellow in the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at the University of Michigan, where she taught science and technology policy to students in the sciences and public policy. She has been a Visiting Scholar at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

What is the greatest strength of your field? In the history profession?
I am continually inspired by the temporal and geographic relevance, as well as the methodological versatility, of the history of science, technology, and medicine. In nearly every era and nearly every location, there are fascinating stories to be told about science and technology, and its relationship to changing contours of power. The centrality of science and technology to historical change in the West and its overseas imperial expansion since at least the 16th century makes the field relevant to many scholars working in political, intellectual, social, and cultural history in Europe, Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. he field is also becoming more methodologically relevant to the broader profession. In recent years, historians have embraced transnational approaches and have become interested in networks of power and knowledge. By virtue of its subject, the history of science, technology, and medicine has been invested in questions of transnationalism, knowledge networks, hybridity, and the knowledge economy for decades. The field also has fertile crossover with science and technology studies, which allows for exciting theoretical perspectives on the co-production of science, technology, and society. What is the biggest issue facing your field? The history profession?
What is the biggest issue facing your field? The history profession?
Without question, the lack of jobs is the biggest issue facing the field, the profession, and the humanities more broadly. The number of positions advertised for historians of science and/or technology has dwindled with the recent economic downturn. The history of medicine seems to have fared marginally better, if only because medical historians can find positions in medical schools as well as traditional history departments. Similarly, in 2012 about half of the few history of science and technology positions advertised were in the history of the life sciences. I would advise any Ph.D. student working in the history of science, technology, and medicine to also position herself professionally within another historical field. This will have intellectual benefits as well as (hopefully) career benefits.
The problem of underemployment cannot only be blamed on the current economy. The overproduction of Ph.D.s is a decades-old problem, and as universities look to economize by increasing the ranks of adjuncts and turn to massive open on-line courses, it may only become worse.
What is the most interesting work being done in your field? Why?
The history of science, technology, and medicine is so diverse that my answer necessarily reflects my own interests. To my mind, work at the intersection of science, technology, medicine, and public policy, particularly the environment and public health, is some of the most exciting. Paul Edwards’ recent work on the history of climate science and the politics of global warming; Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway’s Merchants of Doubt (which is intended for the general public and while not theoretically pathbreaking, shows clearly the relevance and importance of the field); and Sheila Jasanoff’s multiple books on science, health, and politics all come to mind. Work in this area offers exciting critical perspectives on the relationship between expertise, power, and democratic governance. It also demonstrates the field’s relevance to social, political, and environmental problems.
How valuable is teaching in the professional development of a career?
In the current job market, where search committees choose candidates from an embarrassing wealth of highly qualified early career scholars, teaching experience is crucial. If at all possible, candidates on the market should have experience teaching at least one of their own courses, and have a good sense of two or three additional courses they would like to offer. 
Teaching is not just professionally necessary; it is also intellectually valuable, especially for all but dissertaion candidates and recently minted PhDs, because it encourages intellectual breadth. Writing a dissertation—and turning it into a book—can induce intellectual myopia. Teaching offers a welcome opportunity to reengage with the broader questions and ideas that got us all interested in history to begin with. For me, at least, it kept my intellectual passion alive and my mind fresh as I slogged through manuscript revisions. And it offers a venue to explore new areas and experiment with new ideas.
What direction or type of publishing would you advise a new Ph.D. to conduct?
New Ph.D.s intending scholarly careers should work in two directions. One, if they have not already, they should endeavor to place an article in a well-respected peer reviewed journal in their field. (Ideally, they will have done this during graduate school.) I would advise a new Ph.D. to aim high if they have time to face a rejection or two. Even if an article is not placed, the reviewer feedback can be very useful. And two, they should get to work on book proposals and start talking to editors at university presses. The job market is too competitive right now to delay publishing. 
New Ph.D.s in tenure-track positions should use their department’s tenure requirements to guide their publishing plans. I would advise these folks to ask lots of questions; make sure the criteria are clear. Different departments (and indeed, different colleagues in the same department) have various interpretations of what counts as quality peer review and quality presses. 
Some publication opportunities are worth avoiding for the most part, at least until one publishes that first book. New Ph.D.s should not get bogged down in reviewing books, or in producing edited volumes. Take it from someone who is not very good at saying no: Say no!
What issues affect most the development of a career: family, school resources, popularity of field, reputation of alma matter, etc.?
While each of these is influential, family considerations can have a huge impact on one’s career. Many research fellowships, both for postdocs and faculty, are residential, leaving them out of reach for those who cannot move their families. Likewise, long research trips are difficult to take without disrupting family life. And for dual career couples, family considerations shape almost every professional decision, beginning with whether or not one can work in academia at all. 

What advice would you give to an undergrad interested in working on a Ph.D. in history?
First, I always tell such students what they are proposing to take on—that after years of work they will likely face an oversaturated market and have a good chance of not getting a job. If I get the impression from them that my advice is falling on deaf ears, I encourage them to look at the job listings on H-Net and the desperate rants on the academic job wiki. Second, I insist that they never go into debt to get a Ph.D. Aspiring Ph.D. students should only consider programs that provide them with funding and a stipend. Third, I counsel them that if they seek a research and teaching career, they should only apply to top programs. One can get a wonderful education at any number of institutions, but the reputation of one’s program matters for career development. For students interested primarily in teaching, of course, second tier programs may be fine. Finally, I encourage them to develop at least one very solid research paper, and even present the research at undergraduate research forums, in order to establish their c.v. and get a sense of the kind of work they will be doing as historians.
What advice would you give to a new Ph.D. unable to find employment in a history department?
Be persistent. It is not unusual for new Ph.D.s to spend a few years on the market, so they need to have a back-up plan or two. Seek out postdoctoral fellowships while applying for academic positions. Consider visiting appointments. Look into jobs at private secondary institutions. But above all, keep publishing. Search committees will notice gaps in your vita; fill them with publications and conference presentations (if financially feasible). And be careful about adjuncting, which is time consuming and pays very little, especially if you already have teaching experience. Finally, put a time limit on how long you are willing to pursue a job in academia.

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