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The O'Shea Report: May 2004

At every monthly faculty meeting during the school year, Dean of Faculty Donal O'Shea presents brief overviews of recent publications and other achievements by the Mount Holyoke faculty. Here are excerpts from his report for May 2004.

AWARDS

Susan Smith, Norma Wait Harris and Emma Gale Harris Foundation Professor of Biological Sciences, received the American Birders’ Association Robert Ridgeway Award at a convention in McAllen, Texas (the Lower Rio Grande Valley), on Friday, April 30. The award is for excellence in the publications pertaining to field ornithology, and was given for her books, especially her widely cited masterpiece The Black-Capped Chickadee: Behavioral Ecology and Natural History, published in 1991.

GRANTS

Robin Blaetz, visiting assistant professor of film studies, received a $6,000 AAUW (American Association of University Women) Summer Research grant to finish her anthology about women’s experimental cinema. This is a highly nontrivial achievement. The fellowships program is the oldest of the AAUW programs and is highly competitive: only six summer fellowships are available, and there were 106 applications this year. In addition, film is a new academic discipline, and I don’t have to tell you that this did not increase Robin’s odds of being funded (quite the contrary, in fact).

Matt McKeever, assistant professor of sociology, and his colleague at the University of Utah, Nicholas Wolfinger, have just received a one-year award of $61,629 from the William T. Grant Foundation to fund their proposal Trends in the Incomes of Never-Married Mothers. It is well known that single-parent families have disproportionately low incomes, but there are recently published figures showing that never-married mothers seem to be faring better than in previous years. No one knows why, and Matt and his colleague propose to test a number of hypotheses. Are never-married mothers getting better educated? Having children later? Living with partners out of wedlock? They are going to use a huge dataset compiled jointly by the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Bureau of the Census (the March Demographic Supplement of the Current Population) consisting of an annually repeated cross-section of 50,000 households. They will pull out the records for never-married mothers (about 1,500 per year) for 21 years beginning with 1980, getting a dataset with 350,000 items. With this data they will study income as a function of education, occupational status, life cycle factors, and the like. What is really neat, however, is that they will use some very recently developed econometric techniques to do more than just predict income levels. They hope to be able to gain insight into how labor force qualifications affect womenユs locations within the income distribution. (Standard techniques can show, for example, that increasing education raises average income levels, but they couldnユt determine whether what happened was that all never-married mothers benefited or only that the most educated pulled far ahead of the others.) This sort of work is absolutely critical in understanding inequality and poverty in contemporary America.

Sean Decatur, associate professor and chair of chemistry, just received word that the chemistry and biology divisions of the National Science Foundation have gotten together to fund his proposal Peptide Aggregation, Conformation, and Dynamics via Isotope-edited Iinfrared Spectroscopy. The program offices are recommending that he receive $353,600 over the next three years. This will allow Sean and his students to extend their work trying to understand the formation of peptide sheets. It is an extraordinary endorsement of the record of Decatur lab.

MORE

Interesting papers have appeared by Sam Mitchell, associate professor of philosophy, Jessica Sidman, Clare Booth Luce Assistant Professor of Mathematics, Peter Viereck, professor emeritus of history, Robert Shaw, professor of English, Lynn Morgan, professor of anthropology, Michael Penn, assistant professor of religion, and others. More later. Stephen Jones, professor of Russian studies and chair of Russian and Eurasian studies, is heading up a program on religious tolerance funded by the State Department ($145,967). The program is cohosted by the Institute for Training and Development in south Amherst and the Sulkhan Saba Pedagogical University in Tbilisi. It will bring 12 Georgians to the United States for a month to participate in workshops and site visits to human rights and religious organizations, schools, town and state administrations, etc. and create curriculum units to be used in Georgia. A number of Peter Viereck’s books are being republished. More on these later.

Finally, I reproduce below an entertaining, exhortatory short article by Lynn Morgan, professor of anthropology, and her husband, Jim Trostle of Trinity College, that appeared in the Anthropology Newsletter (45[4] 2004). It is their first joint work.

In Defense of the Sound Byte

by Lynn M. Morgan (Mount Holyoke College) and James A. Trostle (Trinity College)

Our in-house discussions about public anthropology and engagement coincide this year with the U.S. election season. We all know that anthropological insights canミand shouldミhave a greater influence on public debate. Why donユt they? Perhaps because we are humble souls, hyper-aware that our perspectives are contingent and relative. Or maybe we just donユt know how.

Yet consider your own expertise. Surely some of it is relevant to what appears (or should appear) in the headlines. Do you know something about cannibalism that could reframe the USDAユs approach to mad cow disease? Something about kinship that could illuminate the gay marriage debate? Something about substance abuse that could shed light on pharmaceutical marketing? Something about egalitarianism that could put the federal deficit into perspective? Our stories from the field provide the kind of compelling insights that can shake people out of complacency. At the very least, they will help people see the world differently.

Why take the time? Youユre busy polishing your prose, planning the next lecture, attending committee meetings, writing grant proposals. Yet it takes little time to compose an op-ed piece or radio commentary, even less to dash off a pithy letter to the editor. The payoff is grandミthese venues can reach a much larger and more influential audience than we meet in the classroom or address in highbrow journals. Besides, if we donユt speak out, we cede the floor to them.

How to Proceed?

Be timely and relevant: Some folks like to keep a piece メin reserve,モ ready for the moment their topic hits the headlines. If instead you are reacting to this morningユs news story, submit your piece promptly by email or fax.

Write well: Lead with your strongest point. Show your command of the topic. Avoid jargon. Use short sentences. You may opt to sound professorial, or you might entertain, provoke, satirize, or incite. End well, so they remember.

Know your audience: Pick the appropriate venue for your message and adjust your style, tone, and vocabulary to fit. You will face a lot of competition if you aim for the top tier, but start there anyway. If NPR or the New York Times doesnユt want it, try a regional or local outlet.

Know the rules: Follow word limits and other submission guidelines. Op-ed pieces tend to be 600ム800 words, letter lengths vary. Make every word count.

Use your contacts: If you have access to a communications office, ask them to help place your piece. Tell editors how to reach you immediately; they work under tight deadlines.

Be persistent: If your piece gets rejected, send it somewhere else. Once it is accepted, expect editors to cut and rearrange your prose.

--The April 2004 O'Shea Report more>
--The March 2004 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2004 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2003 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The October 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The September 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The May 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The April 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The March 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The February 2002 O'Shea Report more>
--The December 2001 O'Shea Report more>
--The November 2001 O'Shea Report more>

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