ISHPSSB 2001 || Quinnipiac University, July 18-22, 2001

Research Groups Revisited: Looking Beyond the Research School

Geison's concept of the research school has proved a valuable tool for integrating institutional, human, and intellectual analyses of research groups. However, there are many research groups that do not fit the criteria for a "research school" as defined by Geison. These working groups are also more cohesive than a "network." These groups are often highly productive and are built on close relationships between researchers. They often transcend not only institutional but national boundaries. What are the characteristics of these "research groups" and what generalizations can we make about their roles in science? What are their strengths and weaknesses? How do they foster or hamper the work of group members? What is the role of gender in research groups? What are the relative roles of institutional structure, personal goals, and intellectual commitments in research groups? The presenters will look at three very different fields and provide preliminary analyses of these groups and how they function.

Organized by: Pamela M. Henson
Chair: Philip J. Pauly

Pam Henson, Smithsonian Institution
"'What Holds the Earth Together': Agnes Chase and American Agrostology"
Agnes Chase rose from scientific illustrator to be dean of American grass specialists at the U.S. National Herbarium from the 1890s to 1960s. Despite support from her supervisor, Albert S. Hitchcock, Chase encountered many of the obstacles to women in science typical of the early 20th century. Denied access to field stations and expeditions to Latin America, Chase developed her own network with South American scientists in order to conduct field work on the grasses of the Americas. Chase established a lively correspondence with many of her Latin American colleagues, visited them on field trips, invited them to study with her in Washington, D.C., and promoted their careers. Chase became a prominent figure in South American botany, advising national agricultural institutions on policy issues and the hiring of young botanists. A suffragist, Chase served as a mentor to Latin American women botanists, advising them on education, opening her home to them while they studied the U.S. collections, and finding jobs for them at home. In turn, Chase's proteges promoted her throughout Latin America, translating her books into Spanish and Portuguese. Chase possessed the charismatic personality and dedication to a research program outlined by Geison for research schools. However, Chase's research group lacked the defined geographic boundaries of European research schools. Chase lacked the institutional power held by research school founders, but found alternate routes to advance her career and the careers of Latin American scholars by acquiring institutional power away from her home. Chase=s proteges, marginal to North American science, were attracted to her independent style. This paper will review the characteristics of a "research school" as defined by Geison, and address how a researcher such as Chase, who lacked access to the power apparatus of academe, can still found and maintain a productive research group.

Ron Rainger, Texas Tech University
"A Research School of the Sea? Reevaluating Harald Sverdrup and Oceanography"
Historians and scientists generally credit Harald Sverdrup with almost single-handedly creating a research school at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. According to the standard story, Sverdrup, arriving in La Jolla, California, in 1936, brought the new dynamical oceanography from Norway and quickly melded a diverse group of scientists into a team and took them to sea. This paper will suggest that the story was not so simple, straightforward, or non-controversial. Although Sverdrup was hired to create a coherent, seagoing research program, that did not occur immediately or without compromises. The staff pursued independent lines of research; some, like fisheries biology, were so remote from his conception of oceanography that he considered leaving. Only in 1938, after studying currents for the California Fish and Game Commission, did Sverdrup envision the means to construct a coherent research program, but he had to adapt to local circumstances. Certain areas, such as Roger Revelle's work on ocean bottom sediments, had to be incorporated. Financial circumstances required that he conduct studies on oceanographic factors affecting sardine populations, and accept Francis Shepard's work on submarine topography. Sverdrup's research program became the foundation for a research school grounded in physical oceanography and meteorology. Nevertheless, the school did not include all Scripps faculty or aspects of oceanography. Sverdrup fired Ester Cupp, Scripps' only woman faculty member and a specialist on marine diatoms, reflecting his interest in analytical research, rather than Cupp's descriptive morphology and systematics, and his gender attitudes. Denis Fox, a marine biochemist, and Claude Zobell, a marine microbiologist, were laboratory scientists who had little interest in expeditions. Personal, political, and scientific difficulties affected their relationship with Sverdrup, and in turn had an impact on oceanography at Scripps. Although Sverdrup's expeditions and investigations, and his textbook, laid the foundations for oceanography in America, different research priorities, politics, and social issues remained a problem at Scripps throughout the 1940s. The paper will examine the effort to establish a research school at Scripps, but will also raise questions about the validity of that category within a multi-dimensional science like oceanography, where competing views about research, methodology, and patronage remained an ongoing source of conflict.

Nancy Slack, Russell Sage College
"Who Needs A Research School? Contrasting Models of 20th Century Biological Research in Three Labs at Yale: Ross Harrison, G. Evelyn Hutchinson, and Grace E. Pickford"
Ross G. Harrison was well-known before WWI for his invention of tissue culture and work on the origin of nerve fibers. During the 1920s and l930s his graduate students worked in another exciting area: the problems of organizers and induction in vertebrate development. They used techniques of microsurgery, and worked on the same organisms, salamanders. Harrison was chairman of Zoology and Director, Osborne Zoological Laboratory, in a position to garner resources for his research group, who hailed him as the "Chief". Harrison's research group was a classic example of an American research school, similar to European models. Grace Pickford and her graduate students and visiting scientists did innovative research in vertebrate endocrinology at Yale. She, in contrast, had little or no source of power. As Research Associate at Yale's Bingham Oceanographic Laboratory she could not officially have graduate students. She did, however, have her own research space and federal research grants, a pattern typical for Yale Ph.D. women prior to the l960s. Despite limitations, her endocrine research group became internationally known. G. Evelyn Hutchinson, trained in England, never earned a PhD but was a Yale faculty member throughout his career, and produced a large number of graduate students who carried out important research. He was not a chairman or director nor did his research and that of his students involve one particular set of problems or methods. In these respects it was unlike European or American research schools. Nevertheless, Hutchinson headed a large, cohesive group of students and became the leading American theoretical ecologist. Many of his students became the leaders of the next generation of ecologists. This paper explores the factors, including leadership qualities, intellectual commitments and institutional structures, that appear to be important in the production of significant and innovative research by distinctly different groups of scientists at one university.

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