Caucus Announcements: Next EPSA Women’s Caucus Social; New Section "Superhuman Spider-Sense – Hyflex Teaching During the Pandemic"
Feature: 2021 Lakatos Award-Winning Book Explaining Cancer by Anya Plutynski
Highlighted Philosop-Her of Science: Katherine Brading
What We Wish We’d Known: Thoughts and Tips about Conferencing
Superhuman Spider-Sense – Hyflex Teaching During the Pandemic
The PSA Women’s Caucus has been invited to join the next EPSA Women’s Caucus social on August 23rd at 7 pm CEST (i.e. Berlin, Amsterdam, Rome, ... time) via Gather. Details will follow closer to the date on this list as well as in our Facebook groups – feel free to join us here and here if you haven't yet.
Check out the new section "Superhuman Spider-Sense – Hyflex Teaching During the Pandemic"! In this section, our editor Janella Baxter shares her experience teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Feature: 2021 Lakatos Award-Winning Book Explaining Cancer by Anya Plutynski
A description of the 2021 Lakatos Award-Winning book Explaining Cancer (Oxford University Press, 2018) by PSA Women’s Caucus former senior co-chair Anya Plutynski:
In Explaining Cancer, Anya Plutynski addresses a variety of philosophical questions that arise in the context of cancer science and medicine. She begins with the following concerns:
How do scientists classifycancer? Do these classifications reflect nature's "joints"?
How do cancer scientists identify and classify early stage cancers?
What does it mean to say that cancer is a "genetic" disease? What role do genes play in "mechanisms for" cancer?
What are the most important environmental causes of cancer, and how do epidemiologists investigate these causes?
How exactly has our evolutionary history made us vulnerable to cancer?
Explaining Cancer uses these questions as an entrée into a family of philosophical debates. It uses case studies of scientific practice to reframe philosophical debates about natural classification in science and medicine, the problem of drawing the line between disease and health, mechanistic reasoning in science, pragmatics and evidence, the roles of models and modeling in science, and the nature of scientific explanation.
Katherine Brading is currently Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. Her research areas are in philosophy of physics, early modern philosophy, and history and philosophy of science. Before her position at Duke, she worked at the University of Notre of Dame, both as Professor of Philosophy and Director of the History and Philosophy of Science Graduate Program at the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values. Katherine has received many awards and fellowships, the most recent of which is an ACLS collaborative fellowship with Professor Marius Stan (Boston College).
Katherine's interest in philosophy and physics was present ever since she was a child: she was always curious about what makes up the world and how it all works. Her journey began more formally when, at around 17 years old, she attended a public philosophy of physics weekend class at Oxford.
From this time until graduate school, she remained interested in figuring out the physics of consciousness. Michael Lockwood's Mind, Brain, and the Quantum, for instance, was a defining work for her during this time. In graduate school at Oxford, she worked with Harvey Brown. She delved further into the philosophy of physics, wondering about what type of questions was quantum mechanics the answer to and about physics' history, such as how physics arrived at where it was then. Her studies culminated not only in a dissertation, conference, and subsequent book on symmetries in physics, but also in new friendships with Elena Castellani (who also worked on symmetries), Dana Jalobeanu (who also worked on 17th and 18th century physics), and Tom Ryckman (who also worked on Einstein, Hilbert, and general relativity).
Right now, Katherine is working on three projects: (1) Philosophy and the physics within, (2) Philosophical Mechanics in the Age of Reason, and (3) a complete translation, with commentaries, of Émilie Du Châtelet's Institutions de physique. All three are interrelated. The first is a re-telling of the history of philosophy and physics from the 16th century to the present. Unlike many history of philosophy texts, this one plans to lay out what philosophy looks like as something inextricably linked with physics--not as something pursued separately from physics. While working on this project, she found a gap in the 18th century literature, where the problems she was interested in hadn't been discussed systematically. The second project above accounts for and fills in this gap. For this collaborative project, she and Marius Stan look at some relatively understudied figures, such as Keill, Musschenbroek, Du Châtelet, the Bernoullis, Maupertuis, Euler, d'Alembert, and Lagrange. What ties all these figures together is their attempt to answer questions regarding force, the laws of collisions, the properties of material bodies, and the epistemic status of these laws and properties. It was this second venture that gave rise to her third project on Du Châtelet: she fell among the very few that attempted to address not only questions about collisions and about the nature of the body, but also questions that are more philosophical in character, such as the principles of knowledge, the nature of space and time, and more. With much of Du Châtelet's work untranslated, Katherine dedicated a seminar to working through the manuscript, which resulted in this last project as well as a talk at the British Society for the Philosophy of Science in 2015 for which she has received much praise. Lina Jansson (University of Nottingham) wrote that the talk "made a great case for the importance of future philosophical research on Du Châtelet and it provided easy ways to incorporate the research into the teaching of standard philosophy of science courses." And while it was this very thing that Katherine hoped to achieve in the talk, she recognizes that its impact was larger, since in making Du Châtelet more visible qua woman and qua philosopher, other women philosophers felt more empowered.
It was partly because of this, in addition to her passion and commitment to assisting graduate students and junior scholars, that she now organizes the Du Châtelet Essay Prize in Philosophy of Physics. This prize is now in its third year and encourages new and broader takes in philosophy of physics both historically and philosophically. The selected winner receives $1,000, an invitation to attend a workshop at Duke University, comments and advocacy from the essay prize committee, and the opportunity to have their paper considered for publication by Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science. On being a woman philosopher, she writes that while she was appalled that the Eastern APA was once held between Christmas and New Year, a period during which children are out of school and parents are the primary caregivers, she is glad that things have changed and that they continue to change for the better. She encourages PSA Women Caucus members to do their own thing, since that thing, no matter how small or different, can change the direction of a field.
What We Wish We’d Known: Thoughts and Tips about Conferencing
What We Wish We’d Known is a short opinion column that features advice from female philosophers of science about a particular aspect of academic life. To suggest future topics or volunteer as a writer for a future column, please contact Jacob Neal at <email@example.com>
Thoughts and Tips about Conferencing
Edited by Jacob Neal
For this edition of “What We Wish We’d Known,” we asked our membership to share their thoughts and tips about conferencing. We received responses from philosophers at all stages of their careers, from graduate students to postdocs to senior faculty. Many responded with their insights, addressing topics ranging from how to get the most out of attending a conference to how climate change has altered decisions about conference attendance. A selection of these comments, which have been lightly edited, are arranged topically below. We thank everyone who responded, and we hope that all our readers will find a thought-provoking comment or useful tip about conferencing.
On how climate change affects conferencing decisions:
Witnessing UC Santa Cruz students huddling in the ocean, just a few months after other colleagues had to evacuate due to wildfires near ANU, made it clear to me that the climate crisis is well upon us. One of my responses to the climate crisis has been to drive my carbon consumption below the recommended IPCC limit. I therefore generally do not attend conferences that I can’t reach by car or train. Failing to make the career advances that going to big conferences might facilitate is the last of my worries right now. We’re kidding ourselves if we take for granted that our jobs are even going to exist ten years down the line.
I do think that climate considerations are starting to—and should—play a significant role in thinking about conference format moving forward. Virtual conferences and workshops over the past year have served as good models for how these events can be successfully moved online. While there will be elements of in-person conferences that are either difficult or impossible to recreate online, I think the benefits from reducing our carbon footprint (especially taking into consideration international air travel) outweigh the social costs there, and we are seeing more tech pop up to counter that as well (e.g. social tools such as gather.town).
Virtual conferences, it turns out, are pretty great because scholars from all over the world can attend. Given concerns about climate change and air travel, I will save my carbon expenses for the PSA biennial meeting and opt for virtual meetings for most of the smaller conferences.
On why we attend conferences:
I enjoy having the opportunity to present my work in real time to an audience likely there because they are interested in and/or work on the topic and so can provide pointed and constructive feedback. I find that this helps to build momentum for the project.
Presenting work in progress can be useful to get feedback, and it is always interesting and inspiring to hear from others about their work. I often feel newly energized to dive back into my research after a conference. Sometimes it can feel like I’m the only person in the world interested in this obscure topic, and it’s nice to be reminded that others find these topics fascinating. I love to see old friends, of course, and it is also nice to attach a human face to scholarship I have only read in journals.
What I find most useful about conference attendance is the opportunity to learn about interesting work in the field and receive feedback on my ideas. I also find conferences fun, and they often motivate me to develop a paper. Conferences can renew my excitement about a particular topic or philosophy of science in general, and I enjoy making new friends and seeing old ones.
Conferences have been absolutely crucial in expanding my knowledge, alerting me to fashionable trends, and keeping me current.
On how to choose which conferences to attend, given limited time and resources:
I prioritize conferences which provide travel support for junior scholars, and conferences with a reputation for cultivating a constructive intellectual environment, such as ISHPSSB and POBAM. Since many conferences have been on Zoom this year, I have been able to attend far more than I ordinarily would, which has been very fun!
For me there are two types of conferences I find the most valuable to attend. The first are small workshops with a tightly focused topic related to what I am working on. Since everyone there is also working on that topic, the conversations can bypass the basics, the introductions, the motivations and get right to the meat of the matter. The other is the PSA Biennial meeting which, because it meets only every two years, brings together a large percentage of the philosophy of science community, and you can get a clear snapshot of what issues are driving research in the field. It also provides a great opportunity for early career scholars to engage with more senior scholars informally.
A lot of philosophers think that one should attend the Eastern APA as a matter of course. This seems unnecessary to me, since when I have attended, I have not seen many talks in my area. It seemed silly to spend so much money to attend only one or two talks, which were not well attended. That said, I have now attended the Pacific APA more often because I have noticed that there were more talks on philosophy of science topics. For some reason, the Eastern APA seems to have fewer talks in philosophy of science.
I enjoy conference environments that appreciate innovation and foster excitement. These tend to be conferences focused on a particular novel idea, an up-and-coming area of research, or an intersection of areas of research.
Conferences can be hit-or-miss. Some that seem like they will be great experiences can end up being sub-par, others might result in an incredibly helpful one-off conversation but otherwise be unremarkable. As is the case with most things, I think the more you do the better, and the more things you try out the more opportunities to discover what works best for you. It’s also good to talk to everyone and anyone, since you never know where you might find overlapping interests.
When I first started out, I could only afford to go to one or two conferences a year. So, I picked the PSA and ISHPSSB, because those were the organizations that were best—given my interests—for both getting to know about others’ work in my area and sharing my own work. Now, with so much online, I have been attending about half the virtual talks, conferences, and workshops that I hear about that are of interest to me. I’ve also found these really useful tools in teaching: I’ve actually assigned quite a few of the web-based talks on COVID and vaccination hesitancy that I’ve heard about through the PSA, etc., to students in my biomedical ethics for extra credit.
On how to balance conferencing with research and other commitments:
I think it’s helpful to view conference attendance and presentation as work towards research and project construction. Attending a conference presentation can expose you to new research articles and ideas, just as individual online research can. And, of course, feedback at any stage can be incredibly helpful in both shaping the trajectory of new ideas and polishing the presentation of established ones. It doesn’t necessarily need to be conceived of as something distinct from research.
It's almost impossible, given teaching responsibilities, caregiving responsibilities, and financial constraints. Strangely, the pandemic has been very good for my research, because I have been able to attend so many conferences virtually. I especially appreciate the way in which many of the workshops have been broadened to include audience members, not just presenters. Virtual conferences are so much more inclusive, because philosophers with limited funding can attend, and there are no (clubby) after-talk dinners, bar crawls, etc. Everyone can access all of the discussions.
Tips and advice specifically for early career scholars:
One of my tips for conferencing would be to prioritize asking questions. I once heard a senior philosopher recommend that one commit to asking a question before the talk even begins. If you know that you’re going to raise your hand no matter what, you’ll be motivated to come up with a question as the talk is happening. This advice might be a bit extreme, but I think it’s good to push yourself to come up with questions even for talks that aren’t squarely in your wheelhouse. You’ll get more out of the talk that way. Plus, at a conference, asking a question can lead to meeting someone new afterward (e.g., speaker or audience member), which can lead to discussion over drinks, etc. I think many new connections can be made just by asking good questions, or starting a conversation with someone whose question intrigued you.
Do not feel like you must attend sessions that are within your current research areas only. Sometimes by attending a session that's completely unrelated to your current interest you will discover an area of philosophy that you might actually want to develop into an area of competence or even area of specialty.
Take the time to get to know people outside of the formal conference sessions. Have the courage to ask questions if you have them, and invite people out for coffee, if you attended and enjoyed their talks. Find out about and attend social events organized for folks in your demographic (e.g., younger scholars, women, etc.) because the people who organize these events are committed to helping such scholars succeed, so it will be helpful for you to get to know them.
Knowing your audience is key. Asking others who have been to the conference before what to expect can be helpful in gauging how to approach the audience and the right angle to take on delivering your work. Having an idea of how your audience will receive your work can help you get better feedback. Mismatches will inevitably happen, and although challenging to pull off, coming up with ways to spin things in real time if there’s a mismatch is good practice. Listening to previous presentations and the questions from the audience, especially in your own session, can give you an idea of what the audience might be expecting. Tying your work in to what others have previously discussed helps to construct a cohesive narrative for audiences who might then be able to provide helpful insights because they can see how all the research fits together. Being flexible, going big picture when appropriate, and above all being excited to talk about your work are all good strategies for success.
Go to as many as you can afford, and remember to "network down" in addition to “networking up.” Newer scholars can contribute just as much to your education as older and more experienced ones.
I think we need to have more open discussions about accessibility during conferences. As much fun as in-person conferences can be, online conferences offer a lot in terms of accessibility for those with disabilities, caregiver responsibilities, socioeconomic considerations, among other factors. Attending in-person conferences takes a significant amount of time, money, effort, and know-how. They can take a massive toll on those with chronic pain, for example, who have difficulty sitting often with only a 5 or 10 minute break in between sessions. As many have experienced during the pandemic, the flexibility that online events offer can aid in dealing with many of these considerations. There are certainly pros and cons, but I think more needs to be done in terms of accessibility during conferences.
Go check out the books! Free or cheap books at the end of the conference is one of the main reasons I go! (Though I have a problem with buying too many books!)
Superhuman Spider-Sense – Hyflex Teaching During the Pandemicby Janella Baxter
When the pandemic hit, I was teaching three courses at Washington University. Like much of the nation’s universities, Washington University transitioned to online-only instruction for the Spring of 2020. Wash U gave faculty some freedom to decide how they wished to format their classes for Fall 2020 and Spring 2021 instruction. We could select from four teaching models – synchronous remote, asynchronous remote, hybrid, and hyflex learning. I think synchronous and asynchronous remote learning are easy to understand, so I’ll just explain the hybrid and hyflex options. The hybrid learning model is a combination of in-class and remote activities that can be conducted either synchronously or asynchronously. This model encourages faculty to adopt alternative means for delivering material and class discussion. An example of such might be a pre-recorded lecture that students watch on their own time coupled with synchronous class time devoted to discussion. The hyflex model involves simultaneous in-person and remote instruction at scheduled class times.
In the time leading up to the 2020-2021 academic year, I took a lot of time thinking about what model of teaching I wanted to adopt. Ultimately, I opted for a combination of the hybrid and hyflex model. I taught in-person and remote students simultaneously, recorded lectures and discussions for asynchronous students, and designed a variety of activities and exercises for students to complete on their own time. I didn’t arrive at this classroom model lightly. Indeed, I always felt ambivalent about this choice. The thing is, I knew that whatever choice I made, I would feel ambivalent. So, I picked the option that I thought was optimal across a range of relevant parameters. Of course, the biggest drawback to the hyflex model is that it puts myself and students at risk of catching Covid-19 during our in-person meetings. While the risks of this weighed heavily on me, I figured my class could operate in a free-rider capacity given that I knew the majority of faculty and students would not be coming to campus. The other factor that weighed heavily on me was the quality of teaching I could deliver during a pandemic. Spring 2020 taught me that I am a much better teaching in-person than online. There is something about standing in front of a class and being able to read the body language of my students that energizes me. I’m so much more engaging, enthusiastic, and sometimes even funny in front of students. I believe this contributes to the efficacy of my teaching. When I’m seated in front of my computer screen rattling off a lecture, I simply lack the kind of energy that gets students excited. This is not even to mention the invaluable experience of students learning from each other when they’re in person. I think the value of students hearing and seeing their classmates react to philosophical issues can’t be measured. Certainly students can have a comparable experience remotely, but remote learning presents various distractions that detract from this. Some students had dysfunctional cameras and other technical issues that made showing their face and attending class a real problem. Other students might not know how to change their background image and may feel uncomfortable having the class peer into their living space. I also had students whose non-classroom environments were busy, making it hard for them to pay attention. At least with a hyflex model it is possible for students to have something approximating a traditional classroom experience. Other, less significant concerns weighed on my decision as well. I worried that an increase in remote learning would encourage administrations to continue to under-support in-person education and employment in philosophy. I also knew that going to campus and teaching in person would be good for my mental wellbeing as it is a chance to get outside and connect with other people. I’m happy to report that I had a small, but steady number of students who attended in-person, none of whom contracted Covid-19 from coming to class.
In this feature, I share a few amusing (I hope) reflections and experiences from teaching hyflex. Perhaps the most distinctive thing about this style of teaching is the feeling that students are surrounding you in all directions. This was due to the technological setup Washington University used to support hyflex teachers. Most of us are accustomed to having students facing us frontside. In a hyflex setup, you have in-person students facing you in the traditional fashion, but you also have a large screen to your back with the names (sometimes faces) of remote-learning students populating the space. In a traditional teaching setup, your energy and focus are fixed on what’s in front of you. In a hyflex setup you need superhuman spider-sense reaching out in 360 degrees to pick up the most imperceptible of reactions from the class. I developed the habit of looking over my shoulder every minute or so to manage this problem. By the end of Spring 2021 I got pretty adept at catching student reactions from all angles of the classroom, but I maintain my spidey sense remains latent.
Another unique challenge to hyflex teaching goes back to the issue of student cameras. In hyflex mode, there’s the added dimension that remote students are projected onto an enormous projector screen at the front of the classroom for all to see. Sometimes this means only students will see what is projected, but sometimes it means people outside of your classroom might see depending on who is walking by at any given moment. This is fine most of the time. However, what is a teacher to do if a student or their roommate appears not fully clad, if a student’s wall exhibits art with controversial content, or a student’s microphone picks up a nearby, colorful conversation? This sort of thing can be exacerbated when Zoom’s video layout is set to Speaker View, which makes the person speaking the central camera on all participant’s screen. Of course, this kind of awkwardness can be prevented by savy Zoom-users who know how to quickly turn a participant’s camera or microphone “off.” However, for some of us (i.e., me) who were still learning Zoom’s controls during the early stages of the pandemic, there were moments when the awkwardness was stretched out, allowing the tension to build – increasing the odds that your chair or dean will walk by and witness something unseemly. Before I had mastered Zoom controls, I found myself struggling to know how to handle situations where a student’s camera presented the class with views that challenge classroom norms. I was wary of calling further attention to the student. I’m also hesitant to enforce norms of propriety. My reactions to such situations ended up being rather uneven. Sometimes, I judged it better not to call attention (public or private) to the student. Other times I decided to intervene. Needless to say I was grateful to master the necessary Zoom settings.
Overall, I think hyflex teaching worked out for me and my students. I’m still unsure whether my choice reflected what the ideal teacher and citizen would do. Yet, my intuition is that I’d feel the same no matter what teaching format I choose. Teaching during the pandemic made me develop skills and senses for handling awkward dynamics of Zoom. As the pandemic slowly eases its grip on the United States, I anticipate that I will never need these skills and senses again. I hope not. I would like to one day say that managing a classroom during the pandemic made me a better teacher. Right now, I’m really doubtful it did. Perhaps time will tell. In the meantime, I have these stories to share.