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Established in 1991, Cornell’s Department and Graduate Field of Science & Technology Studies were formed from two previously independent Programs: “Science, Technology and Society” (STS) and “History and Philosophy of Science and Technology” (HPST). The department and graduate field brought together a group of scholars with convergent interests committed to the rigorous academic advancement of this new and exciting field.
Our aim is to bring together faculty and students with diverse backgrounds and interests in a shared effort to study science and technology with special tools for exploring distinctive questions. At the same time, these tools and questions are designed to facilitate conversations with colleagues in traditional disciplines. Our approach throughout is both descriptive (aimed at understanding how science and technology are done) and normative (for example, showing where actual practices and professed norms are in conflict).
Possible topics of investigation range from transformations in early-modern natural philosophy to the dynamics of contemporary environmental, biological, and technological change. The field transcends the boundaries of pre-existing disciplinary specialties. Such categories as “historian” or “sociologist,” are still relevant for guiding research design, but they fail increasingly to capture the transdisciplinary character of S&TS investigations.
The Cornell graduate system requires students to assemble individually-tailored “special committees” to direct their programs of study. Graduate students must select at least two members of their three- (exceptionally four-) member committee from the S&TS field. The Chairperson must be a faculty member of the S&TS graduate field. The remaining members are chosen from Cornell’s graduate faculty as a whole. This system allows students to include faculty members from outside the field of S&TS on their committees, and thus introduces a degree of flexibility in the design of each student’s specific training and research program.
In addition, faculty members in the S&TS graduate field provide ties to other departments and programs through their own wider affiliations. Cemented through joint appointments and graduate field memberships, these include History, Communication, Philosophy, Government, Sociology, Anthropology, Information Science, Environmental Engineering, Peace Studies, Women’s Studies, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Human Development and Family Studies, and other areas of the social and natural sciences. Members of the field thus provide students with a considerable range of disciplinary expertise and perspectives.
The core faculty members of the graduate field are particularly noted for their work in the following areas: history and historiography of science and technology; technology and society; social study of contemporary science and technology; engineering, environmental, and biomedical ethics; women in science; gender and technology; philosophy of science; politics of science and technology; and communication and popularization of science. Much of this work necessarily is historical, sociological, and political in the broadest sense, and it draws on the well-established traditions of expertise in such studies possessed by individual faculty members.
In consultation with their faculty advisers, graduate students in S&TS take active responsibility for the development of their own academic programs within the overall disciplinary context of S&TS. Students are assigned a temporary chairperson, which is chosen by the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) when they enter the S&TS graduate program. Before the end of the Fall semester of his or her first year, the student must form a temporary committee, consisting of a temporary advisor and two other members of the S&TS Field. The student will meet with this preliminary committee at the end of their first year, in an end-of-year progress meeting. After that meeting the student may reconstitute their committee, but must do so by the end of their third semester.
Course requirements provide a foundation for students in S&TS, covering key questions and relevant research methods:
1. Each student must successfully complete, prior to their A-exams, a one semester seminar, S&TS 7111, intended as an introduction to the field as a whole. Each student also must complete a one-semester seminar on methods, and at least four additional S&TS courses that broadly cover the field. A total of at least four of the courses taken during a student's first year should be designated as S&TS.
2. All students will be expected to achieve a level of competence in one foreign language sufficient for reading the literature in the student's research area. It will be up to the special committee to decide how this competence should be demonstrated. Additional languages may be required at the discretion of the special committee.
Second Year Project
A central goal of the S&TS graduate curriculum is to prepare students for independent research. To achieve this goal, each student selects a topic related to some field of specialization within S&TS and explores it under the guidance of a faculty committee. This “Second Year Project” creates a context for students to increase their familiarity with research techniques and strategies such as ethnographic fieldwork, or primary source and archival work. Students are expected to present the results of their research in a departmental seminar and/or professional journal or meeting.
Admission to Ph.D. candidacy occurs after the student has 1) passed the A-exam (written and oral examinations in specific subject areas), 2) received committee approval of a dissertation proposal, and 3) completed any additional work required by the committee. The A-exam should be taken, at the latest, by the beginning of the seventh semester of study. Scheduling of A-exams also requires that no incomplete or failed courses appear on the student’s graduate transcript.
Admissions and Financial Aid
Applications for admission to the Graduate Field of Science & Technology Studies should be submitted on-line through the Graduate School.
The following supporting documentation is required: three letters of recommendation, transcripts from all institutions of higher education attended (admitted students are required to submit official transcripts prior to matriculation), and a writing sample (term paper or similar scope). Owning to the complexities with test administration caused by the Covid-19 crisis, the PhD program in Science & Technology Studies will not be requiring or using the GRE in reviewing applications for Fall 2022 admission.
Applicants whose native language is not English should also enclose TOEFL scores. A list of TOEFL exemptions can be found on the Graduate School website. The deadline for applications and materials is December 15. All supporting documentation can be attached to the online application or be sent to the Science & Technology Studies Graduate Field Office, 303B Morrill Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. All applicants will be informed of admission decisions by early April, at the latest.
Applications to the field have a variety of backgrounds, including the basic sciences, engineering, anthropology, history, philosophy, sociology, and politics. Familiarity with science and technology studies is desirable. Prospective students are welcome to visit Cornell.
Extensive financial resources are available to help defray the cost of graduate study at Cornell. The majority of our graduate students receive financial assistance, either from Cornell or from outside sources each year. Support in the field of Science & Technology Studies usually comes from a combination of fellowships and teaching assistantships. Among potential funding sources are: the Sage Graduate Fellowship; external fellowships from the National Science Foundation and the Javits Foundation; fellowships for minority students; and S&TS teaching assistantships.
Resources and Activities
The most important resource available to graduate students in S&TS is Cornell University itself. Home to dozens of laboratories and research institutes, Cornell is both a public and a private institution grappling with the turbulent politics of science and technology in a rapidly changing world. At the same time, the university is home to a world-class library system that encourages and fosters historical inquiry.
In addition to superb collections in the humanities and in the natural and social sciences, the system boasts a number of specialist libraries of interest to S&TS. Mann Library is at the forefront of efforts to improve information management and retrieval, especially in agriculture and the life sciences. Kroch Library’s holdings in the history of science and technology are among the most important collections of primary-source materials on science and medicine in the United States, with claims to History of Science being the largest in number of volumes. These range from the Renaissance through the nineteenth century, and are augmented by collections of more recent scientific literature in the dedicated subject libraries, which include engineering, law, industrial and labor relations, veterinary science, physical sciences and biological sciences. Archival resources cover the full range of sciences and engineering, and are explicitly oriented toward S&TS research. Of special interest are the unique archival collections on science writing, the cold fusion controversy, DNA testing in the law (informally known as the “O.J. archive”), public perceptions of the Y2K episode, and the Voting Technology Archive (a special archival collection on the technological issues raised by the year 2000 US presidential election).
Additional activities hosted or oriented specifically towards S&TS include Professor Suman Seth's co-editorship of the history of Science Society's journal Osiris. There is an invited lecture series; the Nordlander Lecture on Science and Public Policy (given in recent years by such notable scholars as Yaron Ezrahi, David Hollinger, David Holloway, Albert Teich, Shirley Malcom, Thomas Hughes, Khotso Mokhele, Caldwell Esselstyn, Freeman Dyson, Kathy Hudson, David Healy, and Allison Macfarlane); lectures by postdoctoral fellows in S&TS; and weekly informal lunchtime seminars for faculty and graduate students at which local scholars, including the S&TS graduate students, may present their work. The S&TS Department is part of a vibrant international community of STS programs.
STS Graduate Field Handbook
The first point of reference for students to understand the requirements for successfully completing a doctoral degree in Science and Technology Studies at Cornell is the Graduate Field Handbook. The Graduate Field Handbook is a regularly updated document designed to help graduate students in Science and Technology Studies:
- Find essential information about core requirements for their degree completion,
- Differentiate among and understand requirements of the Graduate School, the field, and the Special Committee chair and committee,
- Understand the normative timeline for completing field and Graduate School milestones
- Identify academic and professional development opportunities to support students at different stages in the program