Postdoctoral Highlights

Joy Rohde (2008–2010)

Joy Rohde, who received her PhD from the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of History and Sociology of Science, said the STPP Program really broadened the orientation of her research.

“A lot of programs pay lip-service to being interdisciplinary, but this program really is interdisciplinary,” she said. “It’s easy to convince other historians why my work matters, but here I’ve learned how to communicate its relevance to bench scientists, engineers, economists, political scientists, students in public health, and people from all across university.”

This interdisciplinary nature of science and technology policy studies means that there’s a place for a range of academic backgrounds in the field, but as Rhode said, “It’s really rare for someone with a background in history to work in science policy—and to be able to make a case that history has relevance for public policy beyond cautionary tales about the past.”

She had the opportunity to do this by interacting with students through her teaching and STPP program activities. As she noted, students in the natural sciences have a different background from those in the social sciences, but virtually all U-M students are open-minded. “They wouldn’t be here if they weren’t open to the ideas,” she said. “It’s an exciting challenge because basically, when you have a background in science and technology studies, you generally accept the idea of knowledge being socially constructed, but when you’re faced with a group of students who may feel threatened by that, you have to re-analyze the way you present it. You have to interrogate the bases of your discipline. It was really fun to have the opportunity to do that.”

During her time at STPP, she made a strong case that history has relevance for public policy beyond cautionary tales about the past. In addition to working on her book, “The Social Scientists’ War: Knowledge, Statecraft, and Democracy in the Era of Containment” (forthcoming from Cornell University Press), she has begun to think about how Vietnam-era military policy can inform current discussion. In April 2009, Rhode gave a lecture at the Ford School about the historical antecedents of the military’s current use of “Human Terrain Systems,” and was quoted in a June 2009 Boston Globe article on the topic. The STPP community extends sincerest congratulations to her as she accepts a position as Assistant Professor History at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas.