Beyond preparation: Identity, cultural capital, and readiness for graduate school in the biomedical sciences

J. Lynn Gazley, Robin Remich, Michelle E. Naffziger-Hirsch, Jill Keller, Patricia B. Campbell, Richard McGee

In this study, we conducted in-depth interviews with 52 college graduates as they entered a Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program (PREP). Our goal was to investigate what it means for these aspiring scientists, most of whom are from groups underrepresented in the sciences, to feel ready to apply to a doctoral program in the biomedical sciences. For our analysis, we developed and used a theoretical framework which integrates concepts from identity-in-practice literature with Bourdieu’s formulation of cultural capital and also examined the impact of racial, ethnic, and gender identities on education and career trajectories. Five patterns of identity work for expected engagement with PREP grew out of our analysis: Credential Seekers, PI Aspirants, Path Builders, Discipline Changers, and Interest Testers. These patterns illuminate differences in perceptions of doing, being, and becoming within science; external and internal foci of identity work; and expectations for institutional and embodied cultural capital. Our findings show that preparing for graduate education is more complex than acquiring a set of credentials as it is infused with identity work which facilitates readiness beyond preparation. This deeper understanding of individual agency and perceptions allows us to shift the focus away from a deficit model where institutions and programs attempt to “fix” students, and to offer implications for programs designed to support college graduates aspiring to become scientists.



Different ways of problematising biotechnology – and what it means for technology governance

Alexander Bogner, Helge Torgersen

To understand controversies over technologies better, we propose the concept of ‘problematisation’. Drawing on Foucault’s idea of problematisation and on the concept of frames in media research, we identify characteristic forms of problematising biotechnology in pertaining controversies, typically emphasising ethical, risk or economic aspects. They provide a common basis for disputes and allow participants to argue effectively. The different forms are important for how controversies are negotiated, which experts get involved, what role public engagement plays and how political decisions are legitimised – in short, for technology governance. We develop a heuristic for analysing the link between forms of problematisation and different options for technology governance. Applied to synthetic biology, we discuss different problematisations of this technology and the implications for governance.


Does a picture tell a thousand words? The uses of digitally produced, multimodal pictures for communicating information about Alzheimer’s disease

Amy R Dobos, Lindy A Orthia, Rod Lamberts

This study explored the science communication potential of visual imagery by gauging an audience’s interpretations of digitally enhanced, multimodal pictures depicting topics from recent Alzheimer’s disease research. Guided by social semiotic theory, we created four pictures intended to communicate information about Alzheimer’s disease unidirectionally, for an audience who had expressed interest in receiving such information (subscribers to an Alzheimer’s disease research newsletter). We then disseminated the pictures to that audience via an online survey, to determine whether respondents received the messages we intended to convey. Our results demonstrated that, without accompanying explanatory text, pictures are most useful for evoking emotions or making loose connections between major concepts, rather than for communicating specific messages based on Alzheimer’s research. In addition, participants more often expressed anger and frustration when the meaning of scientific imagery was unclear than when the meaning of emotional–social imagery was unclear.


Bridging Science and Journalism – Identifying the Role of Public Relations in the Construction and Circulation of Stem Cell Research Among Laypeople

John Lynch, Desiré Bennett, Alison Luntz, Courtney Toy, Eva VanBenschoten (SC)

Journalism has been a key site for communicating science, and public relations departments at universities and research hospitals are a vital institutional link between science and journalism. Located betwixt scientific demands for didactic explanations of science and journalistic desire for interesting stories, biomedical public relations writing juggles competing rhetorical demands. This study shows that press releases favor the concerns of internal scientific audiences over journalistic audiences. Yet stories that provide journalistic appeals to application are more likely to gain a journalist’s attention, although journalists will then develop their own appeals to application to incorporate into the story.