Interview with Laura Sirot

Dublin Core

Title

Interview with Laura Sirot

Subject

women biologist; reproductive system, female; women in science; feminism and science;

Description

This is an interview with Laura Sirot, who is a professor of biology at the College of Wooster. Dr. Sirot specializes in reproductive biology and discusses her feminist background and how this influences her research.

Creator

Day, Morgan
Sirot, Laura

Publisher

Unpublished

Date

2018-09-14

Contributor

College of Wooster Libraries, Feminist Pedagogy Workshop

Rights

Presented with permission from Sirot, Laura


In Copyright

Format

Mp3

Language

eng

Type

Sound

Identifier

Laura_Sirot_Interview.mp3

Oral History Item Type Metadata

Interviewer

Day, Morgan

Interviewee

Sirot, Laura

Location

The College of Wooster, Wooster, Ohio

Transcription

add this Morgan Day: Hi my name is Morgan Day and I am a WGSS and Spanish double major with a minor in biology, and I am here with Dr. Laura Sirot who is a professor at the College of Wooster. Thank you for joining us.

Dr. Laura Sirot: Thank you so much for doing this.

MD: So, the first question we have is what is your area of study and how do you incorporate feminist and queer approaches in your teaching?

LS: Thanks for that question. My primary area of study is animal behavior and within animal behavior I study at reproduction. Within reproduction I am most interested in how females and males influence each other reproductive success. And now most of my work is on things that happen after mating. So, a lot of people study mating behavior and things that lead up to mating, like mate choice and competition, and I mostly study molecular interactions that happen between males and females after mating. And in my teaching, I would say I haven’t been explicit in my purpose of integrating or incorporating feminist and queer pedagogies, but I think I do things that use these types of approaches. An example that I can think of is in my animal behavior class where we talk about the types of metaphors that people use to talk about animal behavior and how those metaphors influence and are influenced by the way society interprets that behavior. So, we talk about for example convenience polyamory which is this idea that females water-striders and insect species, the reason that they mate with multiple males is to avoid male violence or male forced copulations, and I think that using that term makes people interpret the female behavior in a way that is not useful in terms of the science and in terms of the societal interpretations of that behavior as well. So, we do a lot of things thinking about the language that’s used and how that’s influenced by societal beliefs and customs and how that influences our science itself.

MD: Yeah that’s really interesting and I think that in science and especially the way that gender is talked about in biology is something that I’ve always been really interested in and think that’s really cool with your research also. So, uh yeah, our next question is: who or what are some of your biggest influences in feminist and queer pedagogy? And this can be teachers, or mentors, or books, or experiences, or people you’ve worked with etcetera.

LS: Yeah, so, I think it’s all been my mentors and professors and um, for better or for worse they all come from biology I should expand out beyond that (laughs). But my introduction was actually, she was actually not biology, she was a psychology and anthropology professor because that’s what I majored in as an undergraduate and her name is Barbara Smuts and she was someone who studied primate behavior and was really interested, she really took a feminist approach, where some people would see primate behavior as aggression and male dominance she looked at the same behavior and saw something completely different. So, I think that is something I have really taken from her is to really use fresh eyes when I look at a situation and not just go based on what people have concluded in the past. And what her research emphasized was friendships and non-human primates, and it is so interesting because she really argued for the power and the strength, so it’s still a power and strength dynamic, but

the power and strength that friendships bring, especially to female primates. And then I took, um, two classes with her that I remember very vividly. One was about the biological behavior of women where she really had us learn about our own biology and the biology of other women in our lives and kind of cultural beliefs about those biological processes, so that was really interesting. And another one that was all about sexual conflict and, how, we really thought about how females have strategies to counteract violence enforced by males across different species. So, I would say she was my first influence, but not my only one, but probably my most long-standing influence.

MD: Yeah that makes sense, thank you. Um, the next question is when was a time you saw feminist and peer pedagogy work well in a classroom? And this could be a class that you were taking or a class that you were teaching.

LS: So, the example that comes to my mind most recently was from my animal behavior class. In my class we discuss primary scientific literature, and we kind of argue about it and debate it and critic it and pick it apart, and the last paper that we chose to read was one by one of my IS students and myself that was a study of human ejaculate patterns, and basically we were trying to test the hypothesis that men who come to fertility clinics, when they produce ejaculate samples, might be producing better samples there, like more sperm, more sperm motile sperm there than they might be when they are trying to conceive with their partner. And that this is problematic issue that also results in over um, kind of medicalization of females because if the men seem to have good sperm then it turns to the female partner and they undergo all of these very invasive procedures to see why they aren’t conceiving. And so, the research was very much conducted from a feminist perspective, what it was motivated by, but the conclusions were that men indeed produced more motile sperm and a higher amount ejaculate volume with novel female stimuli, and when I assigned the paper one of my students refused to read it. And she said I’m not comfortable with it, it has a very bad message about men, you know that we’re saying evolution is promoting men to be more promiscuous and I’m offended by it. And I was shocked (laughs) but I asked her to come into my office and talk about it, like I would give her the option of not coming if it really upset her that much, but I really wanted her to know that it actually probably was my most feminist research that I’d done because it came from a perspective of protecting women from very invasive procedures and we had a really good talk and she did participate in the class and really it was a very interesting perspective.

MD: That is really interesting. I guess the male side of that, is like, why evolutionarily that would happen, especially when humans have been culturally monogamous for long is super interesting!

LS: Yeah, I would be happy to discuss that if you would like to!

MD: Yeah, definitely after this!

(both laugh)

MD: Alright, my next question is: What kinds of challenges do you think professors face when bringing feminist and queer pedagogies into the classroom? Um, and like implicating these techniques, or classroom dynamics, and I think especially you being a STEM professor in biology might have distinct challenges than someone who is in the humanities or social sciences if you want to discuss that aspect of it also.

LS: Sure thank you very much for that question. Um, a few things come to mind right off. One is the first challenge I think I face as a professor is time and resources to do this, to integrate, incorporate, learn about feminist and queer pedagogies and think about how I could apply them affectively in my class room, and really, this is a debate we have in our department, and I would say across the college, of like how much time and resources to we invest in sort of just our core disciplinary classes and how much are we investing in interdisciplinary, cross disciplinary, or transdisciplinary type courses or even just bringing in different perspectives into our core classes. And I would say this is very unresolved in some of the STEM disciplines. And yeah, sometimes it’s just about time and resources, like are we not going to teach one of our sort of core biology classes and open up curriculum more to courses and thinking that are cross disciplinary or pedagogies from different disciplines. Um or are we going to cover our bases with things we consider kind of critical to our curriculum so I think it’s an ongoing debate. I think beyond that though that there are obvious avenues that you can easily do both within your classroom, and there are other challenges once you do that. So, the first is doing it effectively finding effective ways to bring those pedagogies in and to have thoughtful, useful discussions about how perspective might affect your interpretation of biological processes for example. And um, so it really again takes time and deep though and conversations with colleges about the best way to do that and then also I think you might get push back from students who want the traditional biology class, in my case, and you know don’t expect other perspectives to be brought in. There’s also the opposite pushback which is that I’m trained in biology, I’m not trained in feminist or queer pedagogy, so I might trip up and especially when we talk about gender and sex where students that’s really the main place where students sometimes have more training in these pedagogies than I do so when we talk about gender and sex and sexual identity in biology class I might define them and say, this is the way we define them in biology, but that might actually be offensive to someone so that’s another challenge that I face.

MD: Thank you. Um, the last question I have is what motivated you to participate in this workshop and what did you hope to get out of it?

LS: So, I will say I’m in a little bit of a different situation, because of my schedule I wasn’t able to participate very much in the workshop unfortunately. I will be, um, I will be working with Claire Jen tomorrow to do a presentation about biology and feminist and queer pedagogies and I’m really looking forward to that. Um, this is something that’s very close to my heart, but unfortunately what’s happening this week is what has happened with most of my time here, which is I don’t actually have time to do this on top of what I’m doing, so that saddens me. But I would say right from, probably from my childhood, you know my mother kind of raised me as a female scientist essentially, she kind of raised me that I have feminism in science. And you know when I was the only girl in like an advanced math class that I’ve always thought about

how my gender plays into my interests. And um, then it was really brought out the most when I was in undergrad with this professor, Barb Smuts, who really brought out feminism in her biology and psychology and anthropology type courses, and I’ve just continued to have those conversations fortunately at the college of Wooster, with Christa and Heather Fitz-Gibbons and Sharon Lynn, and others about how our identity and our approaches and thoughts about the world shape the way we teach here. But I really haven’t had much thought opportunity here to do that. Fortunately, when I was in grad school I taught a class that was cross-listed with biology and WGSS. And when I was talking to Claire in preparation for this it was really nice to revisit that class and talk to her about how she’s teaching a class that has similar goals. So really this workshop is an opportunity to put some time and put some resources into thinking more about how I could do this.

MD: Awesome, thank you! Um, is there anything else you would like to talk about that hasn’t been brought up yet.

LS: I guess just to say that I really hope, and I think it’s come across in my responses, but I really hope that I, and maybe the department and the college, can find ways that we can bring these different perspectives into class or create new classes that cross these perspectives. One way that I’m hoping to do it is to have IS students who have interest both in WGSS and in biology, and I think that will help me kind of do my job, quote-unquote, but also be more exposed and be more interactive in these pedagogies.

MD: Thank you so much, I think it’s really awesome that you’re participating, and I think diversity work in STEM is really important. Yeah thank you!

LS: Thank you!

Duration

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Files

Citation

Day, Morgan and Sirot, Laura, “Interview with Laura Sirot,” WGSS at Wooster: Past, Present, and Future , accessed April 12, 2024, https://woosterdigital.org/wgssatwoo/items/show/76.