by Jessica Baron
People often ask me what I do. When I tell them that I coordinate outreach and communications for Notre Dame’s Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values and also hold the position of Director of Media and Engagement for the History of Science Society, they tend to wander away very confused. It doesn’t help much when I tell them that my informal HSS title is the Empress of Engagement.1
So, now that I’ve become a bit more visible in HSS, it’s probably time to explain the second part of that job description so that members and media alike know more about my work and how I can help them. (This is also partly for my mom so she can finally explain it to her friends.)
First, a bit of background about me: I received my PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from Notre Dame in 2013. I’m an historian of medicine by training and I wrote my dissertation on Florence Nightingale’s work to build a system of public health and public works in British India throughout the mid and late nineteenth century. I’ve also studied Classics and Anthropology at the Masters level, and all of that work was on illness, health, and healing as well.2 My personal interests extend to molecular biology – I worked for a marine biologist to make ends meet in college – and (reactions to) emerging technologies.
I belong to a newish species of academic—those who never wanted a traditional tenure-track job. So, while I’ve taught and done research, those things aren’t my focus; but the people who do do them are. My main job at HSS is to take scholarship in the history of science (broadly defined) and bring it to the media or directly to the public. An equally important part of my job is to foster a sense of community within HSS. This is why you’ll see me collecting and sharing news, editing the HSS Newsletter, and helping out at the annual meeting. Nearly all of my work happens behind the scenes, though I don’t mind taking center stage briefly to brag about our members, something most people don’t enjoy doing themselves. This is why I also have to keep my public speaking and emceeing skills polished.
Event planning is part of the job, especially when it comes to outreach events like the Elizabeth Paris lecture at the Chicago meeting and the Blue Marble event before that. I also try to keep the HSS website relevant and up-to-date, track our web analytics (so we know what’s working and what’s not), run all of the HSS social media accounts (and, relatedly, scour the news for relevant stories to share), as well as write and distribute press releases. In any time I have to spare, I try to forge and maintain connections with science writers and members of our sister societies, such as PSA and AAHM.
It’s a wonderfully fun and fulfilling job and part of what makes it great is that there’s always something more to do. Going forward, I’m trying to integrate more writing into my work, do more interviews with members (the first one is in this very Newsletter), and collect resources on some less traditional ways of presenting our scholarship at meetings and beyond.
I hope this explains a little bit about how I spend my time and that you’ll call on me if you need anything along these lines or if you wish to discuss Florence Nightingale’s biomedical liberalism in British India.
- I lobbied for a Star Trek theme and asked to become Lt. Commander, but was overruled by the Star Wars-lovers in the Executive Office.
- I made a deal with myself that I can brag about reading the entire published Hippocratic Corpus in Greek any time it’s even remotely relevant for the entire rest of my life.