ISSR Introduces Inaugural Director

Laurel Smith-Doerr
Friday, August 30, 2013

The Institute for Social Science Research at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is delighted to introduce its inaugural director, Laurel Smith-Doerr, who was hired after a national search. 

After earning her PhD in sociology from the University of Arizona in 1999, Smith-Doerr joined the faculty at Boston University where she has been a tenured faculty member in the Sociology department. In 2004-5 she received a Jean Monnet fellowship to the Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Study at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. From 2007 until 2009 she was a visiting scientist and program director in Science, Technology and Society at the National Science Foundation. For her work at NSF in leading the Ethics Education in Science and Engineering program and on the committee implementing the ethics education policies of the US Congress’ America COMPETES Act of 2007, Smith-Doerr received the NSF Director’s Award for Collaborative Integration. This year she completes a three-year elected term on the Council of the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S), and continues with an elected term as an at-large Council member of the American Sociological Association).

Smith-Doerr investigates how science, gender, and organizations are connected and become institutionalized in contemporary knowledge-based communities. She conducts research on inter-organizational collaboration, implications of different organizational forms for women’s equity in science, gendering of scientific networks and scientists’ approaches to social and ethical responsibilities, and tensions in the institutionalization of science policy. Results of this research have been published in her book, Women’s Work: Gender Equity v. Hierarchy in the Life Sciences, and scholarly journals, including Administrative Science Quarterly, Minerva, Regional Studies, American Behavioral Scientist, Sociological Forum, Industry & Innovation, Sociological Perspectives and Gender & Society.

“My perception of UMass Amherst is very positive,” says Smith-Doerr. “The social sciences are strong and provide a galvanizing opportunity for the Institute for Social Science Research director to build upon. The community support for the Institute is exciting. Acting director Jennifer Lundquist has done an admirable job of paving the way. The faculty and graduate students are first-rate, and I’m looking forward to working with the UMass community to further advance opportunities for visible social science research. I’m also impressed with the support and commitment to the Institute from Dean Feldman, Provost Staros, and indeed the university administration in general. UMass Amherst appears to be poised for something big, and I think the Institute has a role to play in that forward momentum.”

Smith-Doerr is a strong advocate of the social sciences. “At NSF I saw how support for social science projects can make a big difference in the depth and breadth of the work. All social sciences have significant contributions to make toward building knowledge and informing policy, and having social sciences at the table in many arenas is very important.”

Smith-Doerr also sees the value (and challenges, too) in engaging in multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research. “We are not in a funding environment or at a point in the history of higher education where we can afford to remain isolated in our disciplines. But beyond self-preservation, interdisciplinarity offers a richness of learning. The Institute for Social Science Research directorship will allow me to pursue two of my interests: the advancement of the social sciences and generative interdisciplinary collaboration. In addition, I’ll be able to continue my scholarship as a faculty member.”

The Institute’s resources, says Smith-Doerr, “will strengthen the quality and breadth of social science research by giving smart people even more tools to increase the conceptual and methodological rigor of their projects. I also see the Institute as moving social science forward through fostering interdisciplinary collaboration, making innovative research visible, and providing a platform that highlights the value of social scientific knowledge, including its translational elements that speak to policy and social change.”

“Laurel has so many creative ideas for fostering cross-disciplinary partnerships among social scientists and others," says Lundquist. "Her impressive grant record and work as an NSF program officer have cultivated many connections and networks. And Laurel’s experience in connecting the social sciences and the natural sciences will not only forge more universal support of the Institute across campus, but also bring in large grants to support the Institute’s functions.”

Emily West, associate director, adds, “The convergence of Laurel’s scholarly agenda and experience with the Institute’s mission is really exciting. She will generate a lot of excitement about the Institute for Social Science Research on campus."