Researcher of the Month – Dr. Eleanor Louson

 

Meet Dr. Eleanor Louson, an Academic Specialist at the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology at Michigan State University and an instructor at Lyman Briggs College. She works on representations of wildlife in film, science communication, and STEM experiential learning opportunities for undergraduate students.

You can find out more about Dr. Louson’s work and research interests on her website.

 

1. What is your current place of research?

I’m currently an Academic Specialist at the Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology at Michigan State University. This is a newer unit focused on reinventing MSU as a learning institution by fostering collaboration, learning, research, and engaged student experiences. I also teach in the history, philosophy, and sociology of science at Lyman Briggs College at MSU. Michigan State is a big public research university, but Lyman Briggs is a smaller, residential STEM college designed to expose students to HPS throughout their degrees. It turns out we have the biggest concentration of HPS faculty anywhere.

2. Could you give us some details about your education background?

I attended Bishop’s University  an amazing liberal arts college in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, for undergrad degrees in biochemistry and philosophy. Because it’s a small school, I was able to design an interdisciplinary experience before the bigger Canadian universities had that on their radar. My MA is from the IHPST at the University of Toronto. In September, I defended my PhD from the Science & Technology Studies Graduate Program at York.

3. What projects are you currently working on and what are some projects you’ve worked on in the past?

At the Hub, I’m currently working on learning design projects, doing engagement science communication for Science Gallery Lab Detroit  and facilitating several interdisciplinary experiential undergrad courses. My STS dissertation “Never Before Seen: Spectacle, Staging, and Story in Wildlife Film’s Blue-Chip Renaissance” (supervised by Katey Anderson) was on 21st-Century wildlife films and the representation of animal behaviour. It was an interdisciplinary project, drawing on approaches and methods from HPS, STS, science communication, and film studies. One of my chapters, “Taking Spectacle Seriously: Wildlife Film and the Legacy of Natural History Display” was published in Science in Context within a special issue on Science in Film and the Deficit Model (of science communication). I also run the social media channels for CSHPS  In retrospect, my favourite projects during my PhD (and those most relevant to my current work) were on the side. I ran the STS Twitter feed for many years, which was great experience for my current work in science communication. I also worked on the HPS journal Spontaneous Generations at the IHPST and coedited an issue with Ari Gross on Visual Representation and Science. I coedited CSHPS’ Communiqué with Vincent Guillin, which was a great opportunity to make the work and people within the Canadian HPS community more visible. I’ve also been very involved with student government organizations, especially in STS at York: how do we foster academic spaces where people can do good work and build community?

Eleanor Louson pic by Sarah Qidwai
Dr. Louson presents at the History of Science conference in Seattle November 2018. Photo by Sarah Qidwai.
4. What’s one thing you particularly enjoy about working in your field?

I love how varied and collaborative I get to be in my current projects at the Hub. My work ranges from designing engagement strategies for art-science partnerships to providing research support about trends in medical school education. I’m especially excited about working with faculty members to build experiential courses. We’re collaborating across disciplines to tackle wicked problems like food waste and wildlife conservation. We want MSU to be a model for how to transform undergraduate experiences. After my PhD, which required sustained independent work, I’m invigorated by the Hub’s culture of teamwork and collaboration. And I love teaching at Lyman Briggs. These students are motivated and curious, and I’m able to make issues from HPS relevant to their current and future STEM activities.

5. How do you relate your work to the broader topic of ‘cosmopolitanism and the local’?

Issues of the local and global are relevant to my past research and my current work. In the wildlife films I study, viewers are presented with a pristine, worldwide nature, a view that conceals the genuine conditions of the sites where these animals are filmed. We are reluctant to classify our local animal life in cities and suburbs as “nature.” Instead, we think instead of nature as being “out there,” bereft of people, despite the presence of local populations interacting with and managing wildlife and protected natural areas. This reflects back on everything from the exclusionary model of conservation to whether we consider ourselves (and our local actions) to be part of nature. At the Hub, one of our planned experiential courses is about the global problem of food waste investigated through the local conditions of students tracking their own food waste and building community partnerships in East Lansing, Michigan.

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