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Report out: Building STS Programs lunchtime workshop

There is a significant amount of largely invisible work that gets done within the STS community to keep it going and continuing building it. In an effort to make that work more visible, during the 4S 2017 Annual meeting in Boston, about 30 members of the STS community gathered for a lunchtime workshop about Building STS Programs. We gathered because we shared a belief that we do not yet have a place to routinely discuss strategies and learn from experiences on building STS within disparate locations. At the meeting, we worked to strengthen the more ad hoc connections between existing and emerging programs, and to explore what types of more organized engagement are desirable.

The meeting began with people introducing their programs in a conversation of contrasts. There were programs that were just undergraduate based, and ones with Masters and PhDs. Programs were based in schools of medicine, engineering, and government, and even one that was a school of its own. There were programs that only had one primary faculty member, and ones that had dozens. When asked by a show of hands, around 10 people said their programs were considering, or had just started, a degree program. There were programs from the US, the EU, China, and Australia present.

With this breadth of programs on the table, we divided into small groups to discuss a set of questions: What kinds of problems are you dealing with in building your STS program? How are you hoping to grow? And how did you pitch the value of STS to your institution? The conversation ranged widely across the four groups.

One theme throughout the conversations was the question of funding that specifically aids institution-building. There was interest in understanding the different strategies that programs have employed to raise and maintain the funding, and in discussing where there were funding opportunities that could be used to build STS across universities.

Conversation also ranged around how to recruit new students. At the undergraduate level, it would be very useful to have a set of tips, such as “educate admissions officers about STS and its value to students”, that could be shared. At the graduate level, there is the issue of developing material that attracts students (either Masters or PhDs), but there can also be work done on creating incentives within STS undergraduate communities for students to continue on to further study. For example, one suggestion was creating an undergraduate-only poster presentation, coupled with funding for them to attend 4S, as a way to stimulate research interest.

There was a general recognition of a lack of metrics on programs, and on where students come from and where they go after their STS training. Many other professional groups gather this information centrally, but STS does not have a common repository yet. Several years ago, an attempt was made as part of the STSNext20 workshop at Harvard University to gather information on as many STS programs around the world as possible (please add yours if it isn’t there or needs to be updated!).

The first steps are now being taken towards creating a network of people involved or interested in building STS programs. We have established a webpage and an email announcement list that all are welcome to join. There was sufficient interest in continuing conversations that we will be seeking funding to hold a two-day workshop to further outline the goals of the network and how to build and maintain a set of shared resources. We will also be looking into building a shared resource space where programs can contribute their “stacks of paper” that were used to build their program; things like recruiting and advising materials, curriculum description, and internal promotional material to the university administration. Such a repository might also include narrative case studies on STS programs at various universities. We, the organizing committee, would love more help in taking these next steps.

The organizing committee for this workshop was Sam Weiss Evans (Harvard/Tufts), Daniel Breslau (Virginia Tech), Gretchen Gano (UC Berkeley), Amy Gilson (Harvard), Kelly Joyce (Drexel), Nick Seaver (Tufts), and Jameson M. Wetmore (ASU). If others are interested in joining the organizing committee to plan future work, please email Sam Weiss Evans.

Some readings that have discussed the building of STS in the past. Have more? Please post them in the comments!

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