What’s feminist biology doing in that post doc?!

By now, you may have heard of the inaugural post doc in feminist biology at the University of Wisconsin, from Gender & Women’s Studies. Don’t go rushing to apply now – the due date is past. But what happened with it? And why did they do it? And how? Who got it? What kind of feminist biology does that person do? Does that person like cats? These are all important questions and we here at Gap Junction Science are dedicated to investigative feminist science journalism/cat reporting. So here goes! All your questions answered. See also our follow up post, focusing on Caroline VanSickle, the new post doc!

First, I asked Janet Hyde, Professor of Psychology and Women’s Studies extraordinaire at Madison and general feminist science instigator, what the dealio was. I didn’t actually word it like that because this was in an email and Professor Hyde is, like, a real professor. As am I! It’s hard to tell sometimes because of how much I like to talk about milkshakes and say things like ‘what the dealio.’ So I probably said something like: I’d love to hear more about the process involved in developing this feminist biology post doc, and how you and your programs came to support this exciting undertaking. Which is fancy speak for ‘what the dealio?’ Here’s some of what she told me.

The Department of Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin—Madison has created a program that is the first in the nation – and probably in the world.  The program is a postdoctoral fellowship in feminist biology.  The first postdoc has just been named and will begin in September, 2014. Feminist biology seeks to analyze gender bias in biology research, past and present.  In addition, it seeks to develop new theory and methods in biology that reflect feminist approaches. Feminist analysis in and of science has already revealed and challenged sexist beliefs in scientific theories and practices.  This approach opens biological study up to new questions and suggests novel solutions.

I thought that was pretty exciting. But there was more:

The fellowship has been named the Wittig Postdoctoral Fellowship in Feminist Biology because the program was made possible by a generous gift from the estate of Dr. Gertraude Wittig.  Born in Germany, Wittig earned her doctorate in zoology and botany from the University of Marburg in 1955.  She came to the U.S. on a Fullbright Scholarship and later worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a researcher in insect pathology and electron microscopy.  She later took a faculty position in biological sciences at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.  She worked tirelessly to encourage the participation of women in the sciences.  With no previous connection to the University of Wisconsin, she directed her gift to it in recognition of the strength of the Department of Gender & Women’s Studies in the area of Gender and Science.

This was also exciting because many of us really want to know how something like this gets funded. I feel like this one was less helpful because the lesson seemed to be: be great and some wonderful, smart, accomplished person with money to spare will hopefully see your light shining and donate money to you. That’s not the most detailed protocol I’ve ever seen for getting a new initiative supported. It might as well be: do magic! That said, we are impressed, and by ‘we’, I mean the feminist scientists on whose behalf I ALWAYS speak ENTIRELY. Anyway, this whole paragraph is mostly about how envious I am. But, more seriously, milkshakes. Just kidding! For realz, more seriously, there are so many people who are dedicated to both feminism and science; can we motivate their passion to support similar endeavors elsewhere? Let’s talk more about this sometime, okay?

So, but now, who got it?!

The first Wittig postdoc has been chosen, Caroline VanSickle, who is completing her PhD in biological anthropology at the University of Michigan.  During the two-year period of the fellowship, VanSickle will continue her research on female hominins by investigating changes in pelvis shape – and therefore childbirth anatomy – over the course of human evolution. Her upcoming research will focus on South African australopithecine species dating from 1.5 to 3 million years ago.  VanSickle will also teach GWS 530, Gender and Biology, and will develop an additional, new course on gender and biology.

You may know the University of Michigan for a number of reason not limited to the fact that I (the author of this post) am located here! But VanSickle and I literally just met last Friday at Helen Longino‘s talk for our Feminist Science Studies program, so I can’t claim any credit. Go Caroline! Go some specific hue of university spirit or whatever it is people seem to be saying in Ann Arbor! And, also, of course, go Wisconsin! And go feminist science!

But what about Caroline VanSickle, you ask? You want to know more? Well, I didn’t grow up watching gallons of TV (gallons are the proper TV unit, in case you didn’t know) just to answer every question I raise by the end of the show. So tune in, same feminist science time, same feminist science channel, in about a week or so to learn about VanSickle, her thoughts on feminist science and the Wittig post doc, and many photos of cats (because: the internet).

Here is one teaser cat photo.

    VanSickle wrote a caption "This bed smells delicious (there was still a pizza inside the box)" AND WE ARE AMUSED!

VanSickle wrote a caption “This bed smells delicious (there was still a pizza inside the box)” AND WE ARE AMUSED!

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