Autumn Portfolio

The American pika is this year’s Animal Behavior poster child. Too much cuteness in one ball of fluff!

Classes start this week. In other words, we are five blinks away from Christmas!

I’ve been blessed with a wonderful summer and am starting the new academic year rested and ready (more-or-less) to go. Two of my favorite courses are in this fall’s line-up: Introduction to Animal Behavior and Women and Science. 

When I was an undergrad, I took a course in Animal Behavior that changed my life. Now – 30 years and a fun career as a field biologist later – I secretly hope my version of this old favorite will have the same impact on some of my students. Animal Behavior demands a critical examine of how evolutionary theory applies to behavior. Students consider in concrete terms how scientific theories generate hypotheses, and how those hypotheses in turn must be tested.

It’s rigorous but also just plain fun! We consider a wide spectrum of behaviors across all kinds of animals. Everything from wasps to elephants behaves, and so every species has the opportunity to provide examples of cool/weird/amazing behaviors. Even single-celled organisms like slime molds have stories to tell. More recently, scientists have looked beyond animals and protists, uncovering compelling evidence that plants may also have evolved behavioral strategies.

Rachel Carson
Biologist Rachel Carson, one of many women who have made important contributions to science.

In addition to Animal Behavior, this semester I’ll be teaching Women and Science. It’s been five years since I’ve had the opportunity to do this course, and I’m very excited to see it come back. Together with my co-instructor, Dr. Abigail Lambke, we’ll be looking at several aspects of the intersection between gender and science.

We’ll start with a consideration of feminist theory and how various modes of feminist inquiry can enhance our understanding of the substance and practice of science. Along the way, we’ll celebrate the many contributions of women to science while acknowledging, through case studies, the particular challenges women have faced in the scientific endeavor.

Images of women in science will be a recurring theme throughout the semester, and before we finish we’ll touch on some very contemporary topics, including fertility, women’s health, and population growth. We’ll also discuss how women and science is being increasingly discussed through modern-day media, including social platforms such as Twitter. (Think #distractinglysexy and #Googlememo, and you’ll know where we’re going…)

Courses like these inevitably inspire reflections for my blog, so stay tuned if you want to hear more. I know we are in for some lively discussions and thought-provoking discoveries.

2 responses to “Autumn Portfolio”

  1. Terri-Lynne DeFino Avatar
    Terri-Lynne DeFino

    Though I almost gave up on Genius (NatGeo) I’m so glad I stuck with it. I learned many things through the fiction-bent eye of history, and then looked them up in earnest. Melava, Einstein’s wife, was brilliant, and yet could get nowhere in her field. Madame Curie struggled in the all-male field, and yet she was the first woman to win the Nobel, first person to win in two categories, and we all know her name.
    What’s the inherent difference? One being in France while the other was in Germany? Maybe. But more, the men in their lives. Where Curie’s husband was a fierce advocate for his wife’s work, Einstein saw Maleva as more of a brilliant assistant. One made history, the other was lost to it.
    No matter how brilliant, it’s the influential men in their lives that allowed or didn’t allow their success. Yay for Marie! Boo for Maleva. The brilliance of one’s shine should never rely on a man’s permission. I’m sure I’m singing to the choir here, and this isn’t anything new. It just brought to fine focus the disparity in the field–in the world–that exists today, I hope, to a lesser extent.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Terri! I’m glad you gave Genius a chance. I like how they develop the story of Maleva. I’m sure what she experienced has not been uncommon. On our first day in class, we talked about her as an example of how women’s contributions have been erased from our history.


%d bloggers like this: