Faculty Gather in Celebration of a Year's Worth of Scholarship

October 27, 2017
Wellesley faculty celebrate scholarship

One of Wellesley’s most important fall traditions is the Celebration of Faculty Scholarship, which recognizes the rich contributions faculty members make in their various fields of study. The event has traditionally been held in Clapp Library, where faculty members admired and discussed the reviews, scholarly papers, books, creative writing, and CDs displayed on long tables. A print catalog listed everyone’s contributions.

This year’s celebration, on October 24, was held at the President’s House, where President Paula A. Johnson honored the breadth and depth of faculty scholarship and creative work published in the past year, now featured on the new webpage. She said the site would help faculty collaborate on shared interests.

The webpage, found on the provost’s website, features the academic and creative work of more than 120 faculty members and shows the tremendous range of research subjects. Some work addresses pressing social concerns: health care justice, prevention of adolescent relationship abuse and sexual harassment, and the effect of longer life expectancy on retirement benefits and reforms. Other projects provide perspective on issues that regularly make national headlines, such as the spread of fake news, the tearing down of Confederate monuments, and the response of police to sexual assault complaints. Scientific research includes herbivory and bee pollination, methods to detect dark matter, and noncircular features in Saturn’s rings; creative projects feature original poetry and performances of baroque music.

“The benefits of transitioning from a print format to a digital publication are numerous: It is easily searchable, publicly accessible, and linkable directly to one’s faculty profile as well as to the online publications listed in the faculty member’s citation,” said Andrew Shennan, provost and dean of the College. “The first purpose of cataloging these works is to give our community an opportunity to be informed about and to celebrate scholarly, creative, and professional achievements of colleagues. Now that opportunity will extend beyond the walls of Wellesley College.”

To gain a deeper understanding of how faculty research enriches the Wellesley community, and the world, Daily Shot writers asked several faculty members to describe their work and what it has taught them.

 

Kristin Butcher ’86, Marshall I. Goldman Professor of Economics

I have a paper that just came out in the Journal of Labor Economics, co-authored with another Wellesley economics faculty member, Kyung Park, and Anne Morrison Piehl at Rutgers University (whose mother, sister, and niece are Wellesley alums!). The paper, called “Comparing Apples to Oranges: Differences in Women’s and Men’s Incarceration and Sentencing Outcomes,” uses very detailed data on convicted felons in Kansas over a 10-year period to examine the differences in their sentences, even controlling for elements of the case. This grew out of my interest in poverty and the interrelationship between the criminal justice system and poverty.

One of the things that surprised me was how very different judges’ sentences can be for very similar types of offenses. Judges are randomly assigned to cases, so the luck of the draw can move a person’s probability of going to prison for a crime substantially. To be technical, drawing a 25th percentile judge in the distribution of incarceration probabilities versus a 75th percentile judge raises the probability of being imprisoned for women by about 70 percent. That is a bigger change in the probability of going to prison than retaining private counsel or agreeing to a plea, and only a slightly smaller change than having been convicted of a crime against another person (as opposed to a property crime).  

From an individual’s perspective, that kind of uncertainty is frightening. From a research perspective, the random variation gives us a good platform from which to examine the causal effect of things like the harshness of punishment on other outcomes we might care about, like recidivism or post-prison employment outcomes. We are seeing more and more research that leverages the random assignment of judges to cases to investigate the impact of different criminal justices approaches on important societal outcomes. Hopefully, this evidence will be used in policy reform.

 

Rosanna Hertz, Class of 1919 Professor of Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies

My research deals with the fertility industry and donor-conceived children who are genetic half-siblings. What happens when they or their parents go to the sperm bank’s registry to look up their donor number and find other families who also voluntarily want to meet? Do shared genes make you family? That’s a big question.

Some parents think a meeting with others who share the same donor will provide children with the possibility for a new kind of sibling (donor siblings). Yet those interactions also create challenges as people try to form relationships and become relatives.

My scholarship brings a fresh perspective to my classes because the articles we read rarely tell students how the research was done. But by explaining the process, and sharing insider stories, I can get them to understand the difference between research findings and their personal opinions.

I also teach students how to conduct original interviews, which they go out and do. They are blown away by how easy they thought it would be to interview someone and how they (as the interviewer) have to learn a method to do this. And then students analyze the interview.

 

Mingwei Song, associate professor of Chinese

I have been researching Chinese science fiction, particularly the new wave and the experimental variations of the genre, over the past six years. I was motivated to do this research because I was among the first readers of The Three-Body Problem, a major Chinese science fiction novel, which was translated into English in 2014 and won the Hugo Award for best novel in 2015—the first time that this prestigious award was given to a translated novel. I read this novel in 2008, and I felt tremendously excited by its originality and the new trend of science fiction that it represented.

After doing a translation project that introduced some of these new authors to English readers, I baptized this new trend of Chinese science fiction “The New Wave” and defined it as unleashing “a nightmarish unconscious to [challenge] the government-promoted Chinese dream.”

The most exciting thing about this research is that it’s deeply related to China’s reality. Science fiction is both popular and subversive in the Chinese context. It speaks to politics in a unique way. And yet it opens up to literary imagination of the infinite possibilities for change and the future. It also shows people’s anxiety about change.

 

Marc J. Tetel, professor of neuroscience

My lab is interested in how the ovarian hormones estradiol and progesterone bind to their receptors in the brain to regulate behavior and gene expression. For example, progesterone binds to the progestin receptor in specific regions of the brain and in many other parts of the body. Knowing what other proteins interact with the progesterone receptor is critical to understanding how progesterone functions in the brain and other tissues. Given that progesterone and its receptor are involved in hormone-dependent diseases such as breast cancer, understanding how progesterone functions is important for human health and disease. 

This work was a collaborative effort by Kalpana Acharya, a postdoc in the lab, Wellesley students, and colleagues here and at other institutions. I think our most surprising and exciting finding was that progestin receptors interacted with many proteins involved in making synapses, or connections between neurons. These findings suggest that progesterone has an important role in the formation and function of synapses and may have a much larger impact on brain development and function than was previously thought.