How did you become interested in history of science?
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Vermont I was fortunate enough to be assigned a work study job in the Special Collections department of the library. To a young student interested in history, this was a dream job and the archivists were wonderful. One semester they had me read their entire diary collection to create a searchable database for patrons. There were a lot of weather observations and social calls, but one diary stuck with me – the diary of Jane Flynn Wilson, who documented her experience of tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century. I ended up writing my undergraduate dissertation on the diaries and while I tried to become a “regular” American historian with my M.A. at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, I kept coming back to issues related to the history of science, medicine, and technology.
How did you get involved in the GECC?
I had done volunteer work in my own department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for our mentorship program (we match an incoming student with a current student), although I had never participated in the GECC mentorship program. A friend dragged me along to the business meeting and when they announced they were looking for a mentorship coordinator I thought it would be a great way to get more involved, meet more people, and gain some valuable experience.
What has your experience been like during your term?
One of the less talked about aspects of academic life is service, which often means sitting on lots of committees and through a lot of meetings. Serving with GECC has given me such a positive experience of this part of our work that I may be spoiled! Our officers overlap positions, so you always have an expert available to ask advice from and we are constantly finding ways to work more efficiently, while also energizing the caucus. This year we have worked really hard to find out what our members find the most useful and using social media to reach out to them with that information. Our Twitter (@HSSGECC) is now updated almost daily with job, fellowship, and conference announcements, while our Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/hssgecc) has proven very useful at promoting events that we hold at the annual meeting. Finally, this blog offers the longer format to feature profiles of early careerists and serve as a clearinghouse of useful information for our members.
What is something you have learned about the HSS through being an officer that others members may not know about the society?
How few people are making it all possible! Last year I volunteered at the registration desk and saw how hard Jay and Greg both work to make the annual meeting seem effortless. So much of the meeting, from the prize committees to the caucuses, are based entirely on volunteer effort.
What is one of your current toughest professional challenges?
To finish my dissertation! The end is definitely the hardest and requires both hard work and a lot of pep talks. I’ve chosen to work remotely in order to live with my partner in Salt Lake City. It can be very isolating to work without the support of your department, so I have tried to attend talks on the University of Utah campus (the Tanner Humanities Center offers a diverse and invigorating series of brown bags and lectures) while participating in my dissertator group via Google Hangouts. The annual meeting is almost sensory overload after working this way for the past year!
What do you see in your professional horizon over the next five years?
As we all know, this job market is scary. Add into the mix a two body problem and it’s hard to not feel overwhelmed. We are not finishing our degrees with the same expectations and challenges that our advisors did, but the creative ways I see my colleagues approach this problem is inspiring. I see more postdoctoral positions opening up in the humanities, opportunities in the digital humanities, and even options in the private sector (I currently work part time with Ancestry.com, the largest genealogy website in the world). I think the less we see these career paths as “plan B” and the more we see them as opportunities to use our degrees in fun and challenging ways the more we can bring the history of science, medicine, and technology to a broader audience.Bridget D. Collins is a PhD candidate in the History of Science, Medicine, and Technology program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She received her B.A. (History) from the University of Vermont in 1998, her M.A. (History) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2000, and completed a second M.A. (History of Science) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2006. She is currently working on her dissertation, “From the Cradle to the Grave: Infectious Disease in the Twentieth Century American Home,” under the direction of Professors Judith Walzer Leavitt and Susan E. Lederer.