Science in Society

At its core, my research focuses on science in society: how scientific knowledge and expertise are produced, experienced, and navigated in context (Wynne, 1995). This theme is woven through all my work. My dissertation and related publications demonstrate the influence of lived-experience and risk perception on health care decision-making in the context of medical and scientific uncertainty and shifting health care policy (e.g., Thompson et al. 2017, BMC Women’s Health; Thompson and Nichter 2016, MAQ; Horton et al. 2014, MAQ). In my current position, I examine these themes in the context of community food initiatives (e.g., food safety risk in Farm to School, lay vs. expert knowledge about “healthy eating”) and sustainable agriculture (e.g., cover crop adoption, use of biostimulants in blueberry production, the construction of knowledge about homeowner lawn management; athletes’ perceptions of injury risk).

My graduate student, June Brawner, has brought this “science in society” orientation to her Master’s research, which investigated (through participatory soil sampling and in-depth interviews with winemakers) role of scientific knowledge (specifically, soil science) in supporting the historical and traditional claims about the terroir, a term connoting a unique, place-based taste, of wine produced in the Tokaj-region of Hungary, the second oldest “protected” wine region in the world (Brawner et al., in prep). Demonstrating the national and international relevance of this research, Brawner received an Innovative and Interdisciplinary Grant from UGA’s Graduate School to support this research (2015), an invitation to participate in the prestigious Unseld Lecture Series in Tübingen, Germany (2017), as well as a Fulbright Study Award (2016-2017) and Mellon-CES Dissertation Completion Fellowship (2018-2019) for her related dissertation.

Finally, in an NSF-funded, multi-institutional collaboration with biological scientists, my lab has been examining undergraduates’ development of science identity and capital (knowledge, skills, resources, and social connections) through their participation in research. Comparing data collected with undergraduate researchers and their faculty mentors, we concluded that faculty recognize and reward students they perceive to be on similar academic trajectories to their own. This largely reinforces the academic status quo; yet, we also found that by expanding their scope to recognize students with nascent science identities and alternative forms of capital, faculty can support students in developing the capital needed to succeed in science and research (Thompson et al. 2016 Cultural Studies of Science Education; Thompson and Jensen-Ryan 2018, CBE-Life Sci Ed). This work has national and international relevance for broadening participation and expanding equity in the scientific community. It also has direct translational relevance for our USDA-funded work training teachers in effective garden-based learning: garden-based science education may be an effective site for teachers to recognize and encourage nascent science identities, and thus broaden science participation, among K-12 students.