Just a quick note about a fascinating discussion I had with a group of Wesleyan science faculty on Friday over lunch. I was asked to speak on what was distinctive about science education at Wesleyan. There is much to be proud of. Wesleyan receives extraordinary support for our research in the sciences in the competitive world of foundation and government funding. Our undergraduates co-author papers (and go on to do Ph.D. work) at rates that surpass almost all our peer institutions. Our small graduate programs in the sciences add an element of peer mentoring to our educational context, and the grads continue their research and teaching at institutions across the United States.
The scientists turned out in large numbers for my brief remarks (maybe it was the free pizza!). I explained how I thought that the culture of experimentation and research characteristic of our science programs should become a key part of our university-wide culture. I had questions about the graduate programs, about the makeup of our academic Division III (which includes psychology and mathematics), and about what we could do to get the word out about the quality of science education at Wesleyan. There was a lively conversation on topics such as merit scholarships, graduate admissions, and whether math was empirical. I had several e-mails over the weekend that followed up on these and other issues. Clearly, our scientists are eager to engage with academic planning and innovations to curriculum. And this doesn’t even include talk about the great new science facility that we will be building! On this, I knew they had strong views.
I believe that science at Wesleyan has always managed to combine excellence in specific disciplines with a consideration of the context for scientific research. We are committed to understanding the relation of the sciences to public life, and this has never been more important than it is today. That’s the beauty of studying science at a small university: you get to do high level research, but you also stay connected to other fields, and to a broad cultural context.
The work in psychology that I pursued as a student at Wesleyan had little relation to the natural sciences. As someone who studied Sigmund Freud’s contributions to 20th century culture, I was eager to explore the critical social theories that were part of Freud’s writings. I have grown more interested in Freud’s relation to the sciences, but have also continued to explore the political dimensions of his ideas. Yesterday, the Los Angeles Times Sunday Book Review published my review of Mark Edmundson’s wonderful new book on Freud’s last year, and on the legacy of his ideas. Here’s the link: