Alexis Caligiuri didn’t follow a traditional path to her career in intellectual property law. Instead of a major like English or history, Caligiuri chose science and technology studies — a major that combines science, medicine and technology with the humanities, social sciences and arts. “I always knew I wanted to work at the intersection of science and law, and this major is designed for you to forge your own path,” said Caligiuri, who graduated in 2016.
UC Davis is one of the few U.S. universities offering an undergraduate degree in science and technologies studies (STS). “There are no artificial separations in our program. We understand that nature, the planet, science and civilization are all connected,” said Professor Colin Milburn, director of the Science and Technology Studies Program and the Gary Snyder Chair in Science and the Humanities.
Many students who choose this major are interested in careers in science, technology, engineering or medicine (STEM), but they are also concerned about the state of the world, ethics and social justice, Milburn said. “Our courses give students the tools for grappling with these issues, and help prepare them for their careers and taking responsibility as they go forward as professionals in our society.”
Because science and technology studies brings together so many different fields, it is useful for any number of careers. Some of the skills students take away from STS classes are critical thinking and analysis, how to evaluate new ideas and technology, understanding different viewpoints, and insight into data science. Graduates go into research careers in the sciences, and pursue law school and medical school, but they also go into tech or media, as well as public policy and the not-for-profit world, Milburn said.
Real world example: Putting a science and technology studies major to work
Hipolito Angel Cerros, a current student who plans to graduate in 2021, said science and technology studies prepared him to tackle civic issues in his hometown of Lindsay, California, a small agricultural community located between Fresno and Bakersfield. Cerros is a member of the first all-Hispanic city council in Lindsay, and was elected in fall 2020.
“A lot of voters were intrigued with the fact that I’m an STS student,” Cerros said. “It was really cool to show them how the STS major has prepared me for this type of public work.”
In addition to his government service and remote learning, Cerros is also interning with Assistant Professor Lindsay Poirier. Poirier leads a weekly civic hack night with the UC Davis DataLab called Hack for California, designing data tools and platforms that seek to examine inequity issues across California and the U.S. Cerros is researching gentrification in California’s Central Valley, an issue that directly affects his community.
What classes do you take in Science and Technology Studies?
Like many students at UC Davis, Cerros switched into science and technology studies from another major. “I began as biological sciences major, but after getting into it, I realized I didn’t want to be a scientist but I did want to be involved in that knowledge process,” he said. “I came across STS when I was looking for what I could do in the sciences, and I realized how applicable it was to the real world.”
With both lower and upper division classes open to non-majors, it’s worth exploring STS classes whether or not you plan to major in science and technology studies. “We absolutely welcome students to step into a lower or upper division class if it’s a topic they are interested in,” Milburn said.
Interested in the world of time travel, utopias and alternative universes? Take STS 173: “Science Fiction.” Or if you would rather focus on thrilling adventures that occur onscreen, take STS 172: “Video Games and Culture.” Other popular courses include “Gender and Science,” “Science on Trial,” “Drugs and Culture” and “Pandemics in Society.” You can study how technology and science have impacted governments, laws and politics both nationally and globally, and how e-commerce technology has helped companies like Amazon rise. The program also offers courses on critical data studies, which examine the politics of data and the social and cultural processes that determine how information becomes part of data sets.
Students in this major may choose an emphasis in law and innovation, health and environment, data and media technologies, or history and philosophy of science. Students may alternatively choose not to specialize in an STS emphasis area, and instead pursue a more general route through the major.
Connect with science and technology studies faculty
Regardless of which classes you choose, you will connect with faculty thanks to the program’s small student-to-faculty ratio, Milburn said. Faculty actively mentor students, providing guidance on career options and offering internships and research experience. “It’s awesome to really get to know them on a deeper level,” Cerros said. “I’m not a number to them. I feel like they see the value in me as a student.”
Because there are so many different fields intersecting across science and technology studies, the program created a weekly event for students, faculty and staff to come together and get to know each other. There is also an undergraduate STS Club.
Double major in science and technology studies
Science and technology studies is one of the most flexible majors at UC Davis. Students can customize their coursework to follow interests in a particular scientific field or a topic of research. Many people also combine STS with other majors and minors to develop cross-disciplinary expertise.
“We’ve designed the program so it’s very easy to do a double major with STS,” Milburn said. “In fact, you can complete the entire pre-med curriculum as an STS major,” he added.
Caligiuri said she chose courses in her passions, such as science fiction, and also explored new interests, including meteorology and physical anthropology. One class introduced her to the philosopher Carl Popper, whose writing was featured in the reading comprehension section of her law school admissions (LSAT) exam. “It’s truly a major for people who don’t want to look at just one thing during their time at UC Davis,” she said.
Becky Oskin is a content strategist and writer for the College of Letters and Science.