Summer’s not long enough

Blog Home    |     05.19.2016 by     |    

Stephanie Maroney

I had not secured a community partner before embarking on the Mellon Public Scholars program, so I put a lot of thought into selecting and making connections with the Center for Genetics and Society in just a few weeks. After much research and several conversations, I’m now thrilled to have a diverse and robust list of projects to support and develop over the summer at CGS. Unfortunately, the ‘summer’ is only two months at half-time.

On the one hand, I appreciate the structured time frame offered by the Public Scholars program (as it stands, I’m still a graduate student and summer is also for doing research, catching up on reading, writing, attending conferences/presenting papers, and revising drafts!). But, on the other, I’m so excited to work at CGS, I hope that my participation can continue in some capacity beyond August.

CGS and I determined that I will work on projects that both compliment my existing skill set and provide new research opportunities to develop my familiarity with emerging biotechnologies. The first grouping of work is around the CGS website redesign, which has over 10,000 pages of unique content to be reviewed and revised. I have experience with two massive website redesign projects, so will be able to consult on the process and update content as necessary. The second grouping of work is to research and develop a strategic workplan on CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing technology; assist with ongoing collaborative projects, including the Surrogacy360 web portal with Our Bodies Ourselves; and support the newly-hired Project Director in Race, Genetics, and Society in conceptualizing their project.

While I’m apprehensive about the short-term nature of my work with CGS, it is only on account of my wanting to be more involved as opposed to the ethical questions raised by “helicopter research.” Part of the danger of such a short time frame and working with new partners for whom you do not have a history of interaction is that the scholar might do more harm than help by taking up precious time, resources, and administrative attention in an organization – or deeply disrupting the social/material lives of the communities the scholar is working with by dropping in/out for two months of research (not including the particular kind of violence that occurs when that mere two months of research ends up becoming ‘formalized knowledge’ about that community via a published academic article).

Because CGS has an existing volunteer program (familiarity with training and managing newbies) and because most of the work is shared across several people (there are others to continue the work I start), I believe that my presence will be more helpful than harmful. Moreover, this summer will start my long engagement in public interest research around biotechnologies, and has already created promising relationships between myself and a range of actors involved in social justice and bioethics.