New UCSC training program fosters ethics and justice discourse in science and engineering

The UCSC Science and Justice Training Program was started by Jennifer Reardon, left, associate professor of sociology, and is co-led by Karen Barad, professor of feminist studies, history of consciousness, and philosophy. (Photo by Branwyn Wagman)

This spring, the University of California, Santa Cruz, will launch a unique graduate-level training program funded by a $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to cross-train scientists and engineers in humanities and social sciences, and vice versa.

Science and engineering students will work alongside social-science and humanities students to identify and respond when research requires attentiveness to questions of policy, ethics, and justice.

Students can compete for two quarters of research funding through the newly established Science and Justice Fellows Program.

"In this new program, humanities scholars and social scientists will work alongside scientists and engineers to co-develop a response to ethical issues," said program founder, sociologist Jennifer Reardon. "We don't know of any other program like it."

The new Science and Justice training program goes beyond typical science-ethics training to engage students across disciplines, Reardon explained. "Rather than presuming that one can know in advance what the ethics and justice issues are and that such issues stand outside of the scientific enterprise itself, students in this program will collaborate to develop a joint inquiry that will enable them to discover and respond to the specific questions of ethics and justice that arise in the course of conducting research."

The introductory course covers topics such as the nature of what can be owned and patented, an issue dependent on the interplay between societal values and science and engineering.

As an undergraduate, Reardon focused on biology and worked in a molecular-evolution laboratory. Graduate work in science and technology studies at Cornell University led to pioneering work in understanding the co-constitution of contemporary societies and sciences. Her work has helped to document and respond to fundamental social and ethical questions in human genomics research and to scientific issues at stake in bioethical responses to genomics.

The program was developed by the UCSC Science andJustice Working Group (SJWG). In addition to the NSF funding, it has received support from UCSC through the Division of Social Sciences, the Division of Graduate Studies, the Bio-Info-Nano Research and Development Institute, and the Center for Biomolecular Science and Engineering.

It is co-led by Karen Barad, professor of feminist studies, history of consciousness, and philosophy.

"Rather than leaving the ethical issues to nonscientists after the scientific research has been completed, this grant provides a very exciting opportunity for networking and building collaborations among graduate students in the sciences and engineering and humanities, social sciences, and the arts," Barad said.

Barad received her Ph.D. in particle physics from the State University of New York at Stony Brook. While maintaining her interest in physics, she has broadened her scope to include research in feminist theory, philosophy of science, epistemology, ontology, and ethics, with a focus on science and justice. Throughout her career, she has promoted conversation among scholars in the sciences, arts, humanities, and social sciences.

The new program takes advantage of the campus' commitment to social justice and the collaborative spirit among scientists, engineers, social scientists, artists, and humanities scholars fostered by the four-year-old SJWG program.

"This is possible at UCSC," Reardon said, "because we have a unique community of biologists and engineers who are interested in and committed to social justice issues and a corresponding community of social scientists and humanists interested in science and engineering."

She added that the program trains scholars in humanities, social science, and art to work collaboratively with natural scientists and engineers. "This is a skill set required by anyone who seeks to interpret social and cultural life in an age increasingly mediated by technoscience."

"This program will place science and engineering graduate students at an advantage when they look for jobs in cutting-edge fields, which increasingly require the ability to think through the ethical and social questions implicit in research," Reardon said.

Entry is through a spring quarter introductory seminar in science and justice to be offered on Tuesdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More information is available at and