Biography[download current CV as pdf]
I am an Assistant Professor in the History of Science department at University of Wisconsin–Madison. My research investigates the social dimensions of biomedical knowledge production, especially genetic knowledge. There are many characteristics or diseases that we think of today as having a genetic component, and my work investigates how these genetic explanations are produced, circulated, and change over time. I employ mainly ethnographic and qualitative methods, and I'm especially interested in how the practice of doing genetic research shapes scientists' understandings of the phenomena that they study—for example, how seeing a mouse's behavior altered by a noisy fire drill in the laboratory impacts a researcher's understanding of the genetic and environmental contributions to behavior, or how the day-to-day running of a clinical trial alters researchers' predictions about how molecular information might be used in the clinic.
I am currently pursuing these interests in two main areas:
- Animal models of human behavioral disorders. My dissertation research at Cornell University's Department of Science & Technology Studies was an ethnographic project exploring how animal behavior geneticists use mouse models to produce genetic information about alcoholism and anxiety. The book that I am developing based on this project, tentatively titled Model Behavior, goes inside the animal behavior genetics laboratory to examine how mouse experiments, which position live animals within the exquisitely controlled context of the laboratory, generate potent spaces for reflecting on the biological and environmental forces shaping human life. I investigate questions such as: How do researchers make the case that a mouse in a maze is a useful instrument for producing knowledge about human anxiety? What exactly do animal behavior geneticists believe their models are (or are not) useful for, and how do they articulate their arguments to other scientists, funding agencies, or the general public? How do they manage the strength of the associations they make between animal and human, behavior and gene, both inside and outside of the laboratory? In investigating these questions, I explore how scientists generate knowledge in a field where there is a surplus of uncertainty around how to convincingly link genes and behaviors, especially in light of histories of public controversies about the behavior genetics field's methods and findings.
- Genomic medicine in the oncology clinic. In this collaborative project with Alberto Cambrosio and Peter Keating, funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, we are investigating the ways that genetic tools and techniques are increasingly being incorporated into clinical practice. Oncology has been at the forefront of these transformations, with numerous “targeted” drugs approved for use in patients with specific genetic alterations and molecular analysis techniques available to clinicians. We are interested in questions such as: How is genomics redefining the boundaries between research and care? What new forms of knowledge production emerge at the clinic-laboratory interface? How are existing research infrastructures or modes of clinical decision-making re-imagined or re-aligned with molecular approaches in oncology? Given our interest in the clinic-laboratory interface and in knowledge production, we are especially interested in oncology clinical trials and new “biomarker-driven” trial designs. These new trial designs and the hybrid public-private organizations that support them offer an ideal site for tracing the various actors—research networks, regulatory bodies, patient groups, sequencing technology manufacturer—that are involved in realizing genomic medicine.