Student Highlight: Eliza Cohen ’15

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Hi! I’m Kanita Wang from Taiwan and Thailand. I’m a sophomore, and a likely concentrator of Anthropology. My weekly posts will highlight individuals who belong to this diverse student body, and truly embody the spirit of Brown. I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by so many amazing people, and I hope to share a bit of their awesomeness with you all.

Class: 2015

Hometown: Cambridge, Masachussets

Concentration: Science & Society

Classes this Semester: Independent Study for Thesis, Science & Society Senior Seminar, Class for Writing Fellows, Human Population Genomics

What is Science & Society? The concentration has been around since 2005, and views the world with a theory of knowledge that posits the integration of science and social systems. It’s loose field that combines a lot of disciplines, and treats the interdisciplinary as a real skill. For example, I mostly study the history of science, but people can focus on the sociology of science, anthropology of science…etc. The best inquiries we’ve read show us how knowledge came to be and denaturalizes the idea that one conclusion is the pinnacle of progress in knowledge; in other words, they show us how seemingly objective knowledge of systems has been constructed throughout history.

What has been your favorite class so far? Intro Seminar to Science & Society: it was the first time that I had been in a room where people were thinking about the same things as I was, and we were reading texts that spoke to a different way of doing scholarship. I’ve had so many great classes here, but often I’ve felt like I’m learning new information rather than new ways of thinking about the information; I think that the intro seminar exposed me to theory for the first time very formally, and it was very exciting because we were gaining so many more lens, in addition to grappling with new case studies.

What are your extracurricular activities? Well, I’m writing a thesis, which is taking up most of my time. I am a writing fellow. I am also very involved in the concentration department and I co-lead the DUG. In the past years, I worked with Brown Market Shares Program (a student-run, campus-based food distribution program), and I worked on theater for a long time.

What is your thesis about? I’m studying the moment when Biology became codified as a high school subject, and how it became assembled. I’m examining two editions of the textbook written in New York, and I’m thinking about how the textbook changes between the two editions, for example, what kind of goals it is positing. It’s a very moralizing textbook, so it says things like: “good citizenship is about cooperating with the authorities to have a better environment,” really politicized language that made me think about why biology was politicized compared to other less politicized science. The textbook ends up being used in the Scopes Trial in 1925, and so I think about the cultural dynamics of that time in America, and how biology fits into a classic theory of that era called “the search for order” : this is where school systems start becoming networked, and economists start focusing on cooperative structures rather than pure competition. There are tropes in the historiography and I’m arguing about how they play out in biology education, and how they affect the perception of nature.

Why did you choose Brown? When I visited Brown, I met a couple of kids that I really admired and were thinking in a way that was very exciting, and I wanted to be able to think like that. One thing that they said to me was that we are in an ivory tower, and we’re very aware of our position, but we are also trying to take advantage of what is here, and then to go out into the world and think in a way that is very important. They acknowledged the privilege of being here but also felt very excited about the project of studying in a very academic way; I was excited to do those both at once. I have, at various points, felt a lot tension between the real world and academics, and I think that one of the things that I learned from the people around me and from that moment coming here is the way in which scholarship and really theoretical work can be exciting for its own sake but also be real. I’ve been lucky to have conversations with people who are walking that porous boundary.

Favorite place on campus? I love the Athenaeum, and Indian Point Park. And I’m always at the Rock.

Can you tell us about a fond time you had since coming to Brown? My first finals period: there was a week where two of my friends and I were staying up all night trying to finish our papers, but we still read each other’s papers and everyone was giving each other feedback. It was wonderful that academics could be a teamwork-oriented, because I spent a lot time thinking that I was just going to go into a box, write my paper, go out and live the rest of my life. Being invested in each other’s ideas was the basis of our friendship, and that was very exciting.

Words of wisdom for prospective Brunonians? It’s a roller-coaster: one of things that I’ve really appreciated has been the kind of conversations that I’ve had with my peers. And at different points, I have been able to explore and not be afraid of having everything figured out; sometimes I fall into really needing structure, certainty and stability, and those were times that I being less creative. Four years is a long time, but I learned a lot from scaring myself a little bit, and I think that I could be doing that a lot more. This means doing things that I’m less sure about, taking classes that are different from what I usually take, getting involved with groups on campus, with people that I usually don’t spend time with.

Know someone who belongs in this column? Think YOU deserve a student highlight? Send me an email at sheau-yuan_wang@brown.edu and we’ll make it happen!

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