March 27, 2002: President's Page
Each Friday I spend time in
the Lewis Thomas Laboratory working in the lab with seniors completing
their senior theses, graduate students working on their Ph.D.s and postdoctoral
fellows who are conducting research. One of my graduate advisees, Scott
Steele, is hard at work on his dissertation research, but at the same
time he is organizing a conference with Rebecca Katz, a fellow graduate
student in the Woodrow Wilson School.
The topic of this conference,
which is planned for next fall, is bioterrorismpreventing it, dealing
with its consequences, communicating effectively about it, crafting regulations
to deter it. Although the topic has interested Scott since college, it
is unrelated to his dissertation, and as his advisor, I might be expected
to discourage him from taking on any assignment that distracts him from
his primary objective at Princetoncompleting his Ph.D. On the contrary,
I am delighted that he is taking the lead on this event. The opportunity
to plan a major conference with keynote addresses by internationally renowned
experts from our faculty, the media, and the world of public affairs will
teach him lessons not available in the classroom or the laboratory.
In general, the sharing of
research findings is central to the work of any scientist and critical
to the professional development of all of our graduate students. The bioterrorism
conference will test Scotts growing interest in the interdisciplinary
field of science policy, an exciting career option he is considering.
Such student-planned events
that take advantage of similar interests across disciplines help account
for the vibrancy of the graduate student community on campus. This past
fall I attended a conference called Puerto Ricans: Second-Class
Citizens in Our Democracy? which included among its
participants Jesse Jackson, Sonia Sotomayor 76, U.S. Court of Appeals
judge, and Marcia Rivera, a distinguished Puerto Rican sociologist. The
graduate student organizers came from the departments of Spanish and Portuguese,
sociology, history and the Woodrow Wilson School, as well as from the
nearby Princeton Theological Seminary.
Last years Centennial
of the Graduate School provided new impetus for student-led conferences,
and thanks to the generosity of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the School
has been able to continue to fund such initiatives, one of which took
place several weeks ago in early March. Named Posing Models: The
Question of Beauty and Its Status in the History of Art, the conference
was organized by three students who entered the Department of Art and
Archaeology the same year and who all focus on the modern period: Michelle
Foa, Suzanne Hudson, and Julia Robinson.
Their objective was to select
a topic that had wide-ranging appeal and to reach out to students concentrating
on different centuries and fields in Art and Archaeology as well as to
students in different disciplines. The Mellon Foundation grant allowed
them to cast the net widely in the call for papers, and the conference
included students from the University of Pittsburgh, Berkeley and Harvard.
It also allowed them to invite the artist, Louise Lawler, as a keynote
All three students are completing
their General Examinations this year, and the pressure to prepare for
these examinations as well as for course work and precepting is significant.
When asked why they took on the extra work, they point to the delight
of exploring a topic of their own interest and to more practical professional
benefits such as gaining practice delivering papers, testing the validity
of their hypotheses and networking.
Organizing their own conference
de-mystified the process of what is a central component of their future
professional lives. They also point to the experience as being fundamentally
and enormously empowering. THEY got to select papers from among the very
talented submissions of their peers. THEY got to decide on the intellectual
thrust of the conference, arranging the sequence of topics to make their
own points. THEY invited the keynote speaker and spent time with this
star in their field of interest. (It has been my experience
that students are always able to attract the best speakers!) THEY also
did all the work, but it seems the benefits clearly outweigh the cost.
This is, after all, the second annual graduate student conference in the
To play on the title of the Art and Archaeology conference, these graduate student-run events are all about posing models. Its their chance to present luminaries in their field of concentrationtheir modelsas well as to present the work in progress of other graduate studentsthe models in training. During her presentation, Louise Lawler made an understated but powerful comment about the beauty of a work of art, saying The work works. For graduate students preparing these conferences, who devote substantial time and effort to make the conferences a success, it is also true that the work works.