The interdisciplinary nature of the field of Science & Technology Studies draws students from a variety of backgrounds to my classroom. The fundamental aspect of my teaching philosophy involves exposing students to the new lenses and skills needed for critical reflection on their work as future scientists, physicians, and engineers (or of their daily relationship with Science). More than any other goal in my work as a teacher, I believe that the ability—and willingness—to consider the co-production of science, technology, and society can influence the very questions we ask and the ethics we demand of ourselves and others who hold varying degrees of power.
As such, my Fall 2017 first-year writing seminar, Science and Society: Stories of (Agri)Culture, introduced these questions through the topic of agriculture. While my teaching reflects my own experience and research interests in agricultural science and food systems, my primary goal and responsibility is to provide students with the skills, encouragement, and time to develop their own voice—for telling their own stories.
As both a student and a teacher, I believe that students must be excited about and engaged with a specific topic in order to maintain a commitment to relentless practice of the craft of writing. By creating an intellectual space that fosters research and productive argumentation, the writing process will follow. I take this to heart in my own teaching philosophy. The writing I ask students to produce reflects the interdisciplinary nature of STS. This means that, in addition to analyzing different stories and texts in the field, students will become familiar with building effective arguments and conducting research in a variety of genres.
For example, late in my Fall 2017 First-Year Writing Seminar, “Science & Society: Stories of (Agri)Culture,” an interesting thing happened: I took students to a screening of the new Neil deGrasse Tyson-narrated film, Food Evolution (2016) and discussion panel at Ithaca’s Cinemapolis movie theatre. Following the event, I asked them to watch Food, Inc. (2008), and to simply write about each film’s mobilization of “science,” given that they both came to vastly different conclusions about our food system while claiming to be based in objective, disinterested scientific fact. The quality of the essays blew me away. I was pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly film analysis allowed students to begin parsing through complex concepts in the science and technology studies discipline. Unlike other assignments that develop explicit research competencies, this essay required students to use the writing process itself, perhaps for the first time, as an intellectual adventure. This assignment itself motivated my next seminar, “Food-Flix & Chill,” and I have used this assignment again to similar effect.
In both my own research and teaching, I use Cornell University itself as a laboratory, relying significantly on class fieldtrips and tours within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, as well as on discussions with scientists, historians, and librarians. I encourage students to think of these stories, people, and archives as both tools and objects of research, and together we conceptualize, discuss, and write about them from different (sub)disciplinary lenses. Agriculture is an accessible topic through which to accomplish these broader goals: No matter how indirectly, everyone is connected to their food and the environment, and has their own stories to share, and voices to develop.
Food studies opens a space for the discussion of culture and power directly as part of Science—as opposed to entirely separate from it. It creates a space where there are no “wrong” answers but rather differing perspectives from students who are experts in their own identities and cultural experiences, as well as guests, texts, and films from a variety of worldviews. By emphasizing the diversity of views in even the scholarly literature, my classroom becomes an environment where students are not forced to performtheir politics for me, the grader; instead, they feel safe and comfortable to challenge their assumptions, ask difficult questions, and to grow into lifelong critical consumers of scientific information — along with me.