HSS News – April 2021

My Final Thanks

by Jay Malone, jay@hssonline.org

Editor’s note: For over 22 years now Jay has been the behind-the-scenes motive force and public face and voice of HSS. So it is with a sense of something unreal, and also deep reluctance that I share the news that such will no longer be the case. I’m sure readers will join me in wishing Jay the best in his future endeavors, but meanwhile, here’s a short but heartfelt message from him. 

Shortly after the pandemic began, Charles Rosenberg reminded us that such events create stress tests for societies. These kinds of total disruptions reveal the fault lines in all types of collective endeavors, but pandemics can also lead to deep personal reflection and it is in that vein that I have decided to pursue a different path, which is another way of saying that I am stepping down as Executive Director.  I am hoping to make the transition as smooth as possible and know that the hundreds of volunteers who dedicate so much of themselves to the HSS will help it continue to thrive. 

One thing that has always bothered me during my life as a historian of science is that Tom Kuhn died right before I defended my dissertation. It probably was just a coincidence, and I’m not even sure that Kuhn died the exact day that I defended, but I do remember my dissertation advisor telling me the news right before my defense. It seemed ominous, and in my belief that the world revolved around me, I have been haunted by the possibility that giving me a PhD was a harbinger of doom for the history of science.

And it seemed that the fates were aligning specifically against the HSS because less than two years later, that same advisor urged me to apply for a newly created position: Executive Director of the HSS. That was over 22 years ago, and despite my repeated and regular mistakes, large and small, the Society has somehow endured. The most likely explanation for that endurance is that the volunteers, those who have given so selflessly of their time, have proven the difference. It has been my privilege to work with people who are not only whip smart, but who have been kind and totally committed to the Society. It really has been a thrill to foster interest in the history of science with them; they made the difference in a job that can best be described as “relentless.” They made it bearable in the worst of times and deeply fulfilling in the best of times.

So, I just want to close with a sincere thank you to the many members with whom I’ve worked over the decades. You have been inspirational beyond words and have made life on this “mostly harmless” planet so much more interesting. I am grateful.

—Jay

2021 Joseph H. Hazen Lecture in New York

The 2021 Joseph Hazen Lecture is scheduled for 23 April at 2 pm (14:00) EST. Rather than a standard lecture, the session is planned as an interactive encounter on “How to turn your PhD into a Netflix series.” 

The main speaker is Latif Nasser, co-host of the award-winning WNYC Studios show Radiolab and host and executive producer of the Netflix science documentary series, Connected. Commentary will be offered by Sarah Pickman at Yale and Sarah Qidwai at the University of Toronto, who will be joined by a special guest interlocutor Ingrid Ockert, communications coordinator for the Workforce Development and Education Department at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and Alex Wellerstein, Director of Science and Technology Studies in the College of Arts and Letters of the Stevens Institute of Technology will moderate. 

Our deep thanks to Jean-François Gauvin, Chair of the HSS Committee on Education and Engagement, and to the many others who have worked so diligently toward organizing this lecture.

Isis Submissions and Gender During the Pandemic

The co-editors of Isis have updated their report from August of last year on the effect that COVID-19 has had on submissions, and its disproportionate impact on women. Six months later, the striking gender gap that arose in the middle months of 2020 has narrowed considerably, but new challenges have arisen. The HSS Newsletter hopes to feature a longer conversation about the meaning and implications of this report in a future issue. Stay tuned.

Statement from HSS Committee on Advocacy

As historians of science, we know that robust scholarly institutions have been a foundation for the pursuit of knowledge, the education of technical experts and a democratic public, and the benefit of society. We also know that universities are expressions of the values and priorities of those who govern them. Only through the wise stewardship of faculty dedicated to research and instruction will universities advance these high purposes. Consistent with its endorsement of the American Association of University Professors statement on Principles of Academic Governance during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the History of Science Society views with grave concern the unilateral actions that administrations of some universities have taken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, especially those affecting curriculum and instruction, labor and employment conditions (including declarations of financial exigency, furloughs, and terminations), and health protocols. HSS also acknowledges and applauds those universities that have upheld shared governance under challenging circumstances. Moreover, on behalf of historians of science working in museums, archives, government agencies, research institutes, firms, and as independent scholars broadening the impact of our field, we strongly encourage these institutions and communities to maintain or strengthen support for freedom of inquiry, job security, and inclusive decision-making processes.

HSS Congratulates New AAAS Fellows!

The following HSS members were formally inducted as Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science on 13 Feb 2021. The event may be viewed on YouTube. The full list of Fellows can be found on the AAAS website.

Section on History and Philosophy of Science

Colin Allen, Univ. of Pittsburgh

For his significant contributions to philosophy of science, philosophy of biology, philosophy of cognitive science, and in logic, computation and artificial intelligence.

Rachel Ankeny, Univ. of Adelaide (Australia)

For her contributions to our understanding of the foundational roles that organisms play in biological research and her leadership in history and philosophy of science.

David Cassidy, Hofstra University

For distinguished contributions to the fields of history and physics, his broader scholarship linking physics and societal challenges, and communicating science to the public.

Marsha L. Richmond, Wayne State Univ.

For foundational contributions to the history of evolution and genetics, particularly the role of women investigators, and distinguished service to the history of science profession.

Section on Mathemetics

Karen Hunger Parshall, Univ. of Virginia

For outstanding contributions to the history of mathematics, combined with extraordinary service to the mathematical and historical sciences.

Matt Shindell, Curator 

An HSS@Work Career Profile 

At the History of Science Society’s Virtual Forum this past October, I had the pleasure of participating in one of the panel discussions about the future of the profession. Most of what I was able to contribute to this discussion concerned the job market, and how the profession should consider broadening the training graduate students receive to make them good candidates for jobs in alt-academic or academic-adjacent jobs. As someone who has been lucky enough to spend my early career in a research institution, I am privileged to have found a job in which I am able to continue to research and publish. But there are many other dimensions of my job as a Smithsonian curator for which I did not train, benefiting rather, from extracurricular experiences that helped me present myself as a potential museum person.

I realized that I loved the history of science when I was an unhappy pre-med major at Arizona State University. Halfway through my sophomore year, I decided to undeclare myself. In the course catalogue I saw something called “History and Philosophy of Biology.” I signed up. This first history of biology course introduced me to my first real mentor, Dr. Jane Maienschein, and more courses with Jane followed. The history of science opened up to me new ways of understanding and questioning science. I finally felt like I had found my thing. Or one of them. I also gravitated toward creative writing. I took some undergraduate writing workshops and eventually started taking graduate workshops. Rather than go directly to graduate school for history of science—which I had already decided I would do—Jane advised me to pursue writing first. I applied and was accepted to the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, where I spent two years writing poems and thinking of myself as a writer. 

I came back to Arizona with an MFA and a stack of poems. I still planned to apply to a history of science graduate program, but I didn’t know what I wanted to study. I decided to spend a year taking courses at ASU and figuring out what questions I wanted to ask. Based on my MFA, I landed a graduate assistantship in the Public Information Office (PIO), where I wrote press releases and helped manage relationships with science writers. I also started writing stories of my own. One of the hottest stories at ASU in the early 2000s was Mars exploration. Geologists on campus were involved in orbiting Mars missions and were gearing up for NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rover mission. I spent a lot of time in their offices and became fascinated with the history of how geology became an interplanetary discipline. I convinced one of them to let me tag along with his team of graduate students and postdocs to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California for the rover mission, and I spent the winter months of 2004 driving back and forth between Phoenix and Pasadena. 

With the topic of my master’s thesis settled, I applied to PhD programs. After a few campus visits and chats with potential mentors, I decided to move to the University of California, San Diego to study with Naomi Oreskes, whose research in the history of the earth sciences seemed like a good fit for my planetary science interests. It was. I ended up continuing my studies of planetary science by writing a dissertation about the isotope geochemist, Harold C. Urey—work that last year became my first academic book

The job market when I finished my PhD in 2011 was not good. I spent the next four years in three postdocs, the last of which was in Harvard University’s History of Science Department, where I taught and continued my research for a year-and-a-half more. Then in 2015 I saw a job listing that seemed perfect—the position of curator of planetary science at the National Air and Space Museum. But although my research interests and expertise made me a good fit for this job, I didn’t know much about being a curator. Besides the requisite research and publication experience, the position also had requirements beyond my formal training. 

Fortunately, I had accumulated a lot of extracurricular experience that helped me approach these new responsibilities. I had written for the public in my job in the PIO, and this helped with the public history component of my job. I had also held graduate assistantships in the special collections library at UCSD, where I had learned to work with collections and had helped design and carry out an oral history project. And I had spent time working for Jane as an editorial assistant for a journal and later as an intern at the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the NASA History Office, where I learned a few project management skills. In other words, the fact that I hadn’t spent all of my time as a graduate student on fellowship, or pursued exclusively teaching assistantships, meant that I had developed skills that were useful beyond the academy.

The job market has, unfortunately, not improved much or at all, since 2011 and has deteriorated after the pandemic. If I take any lesson from my experience it is that graduate students need to be as versatile as they can when they enter the market. They should take any opportunities available to them to develop skills that will help them qualify for jobs that aren’t limited to research and teaching.

More from the April 2021 Newsletter