On June 30th, 2014 I will undergo one of those life-changing transformations, from Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies to Nancy Duke Lewis Professor Emerita. In academic lingo, that means I’ve retired from Brown University’s main stage. And after 42 years of teaching thousands of students about biology, and feminist theory and science studies, but also about social justice in academia and in the application of science on a world stage, some will say I deserve a rest. And truth be told, I DO plan to stop and smell the roses a little bit. But I also have big plans–to continue to publish my research on dynamic systems and gender development, to continue to advocate for those who are underrepresented in the scientific workplace, to continue to write and speak publicly about science for a broader audience. There are more research papers in my future, but also blogs, public speaking, books and even some short animations.
No teaching? Well, my teaching philosophy has always been that you lead people to resources, give them a little background and then push them to figure it out for themselves. That’s how I use twitter and my professional Facebook pages. Almost every day I pass on an interesting article, a new resource, make a comment about how to frame gender, race, science and medicine as it is happening in real time. So I guess from now on (not counting the writing and public speaking) my teaching will be 140 characters at a time and class attendance is totally voluntary.
A lot has happened in Academia in 42 years especially with regard to women in the professoriate (see my blog ). And for 42 years those ahead of me and those behind me (in age!) have worked hard to change things. Change has come, incomplete, but still more than noticeable. I look forward to what the new generations of teachers and scholars will bring.
They face their own challenges. We faced an old boys club run without much in the way of rules or oversight. There were no personnel (now we call it human resources) policies. It was legal to advertise a job as being only for men (and white was implied).
Now universities are rule-bound corporate entities, producing way too many cookie-cutter intellectuals. Grateful as I am for the room Brown gave me to morph from scientist to social commentator, I fear that in the future there will be little room for someone like me, who started out working with fruit flies (I loved their little red eyes–really!) and ended up studying gender in infants (with a passage through some sweet cross-eyed worms call planaria. So the next gens will have to figure out how to operate in the technocratic university. It is a different and definitely more structurally conservative world.
I’ve just finished a draft of a research paper on parent-infant interactions and the embodiment of gender. As I wrote I kept thinking that finally, I understand what questions to ask and how to ask them, and that if I were 25 years old I could devote my entire career to demonstrating through empirical study and theory how we become embodied as gendered and racialized subjects. But it took me 45 years to get to this point.
I plan to keep working at it and to encourage those just starting out to collect fresh data using the developmental and dynamic approaches I have come to champion.