Monday, October 26, 2015

Trading Zones in Technological Societies - a SPIRAL Conference (U. Liège)

Host: SPIRAL Research Center, University of Liège

Yesterday and today, I had the opportunity to participate at the Trading Zones conference held at the Cité Miroir here in Liège. Since I'm new to the field of STS, and haven't yet started courses on the subject yet (except for one Sociology course on Actor-Network Theory), it was useful for me, since I got to gain insight into current research from different universities.

Day One (Afternoon only)
Keynote speeches by 4 scholars in the field:

  • Sheila Jasanoff (Kennedy School of Government, Harvard): Science-law-politics-governance
  • Andrew Stirling (STEPS Centre, U. Sussex): Democracy and pluralism in science and technology governance
  • Pierre-Benoît Joly (IFRIS): Innovation governance in France

Day Two
Individual presentations by researchers (incl. PhDs). Some of the projects I found interesting were:

Rita Giuffredi (CERN) & Andrea Cerroni (U. Milano Biocca)
"EU knowledge society and the production of scientific knowledge in the views of the European policy makers: Visions, values and legitimate actors"

Daniela Schuh (U. Vienna)
"European citizenship and the governance of international surrogacy arrangements"

Gert Meyers (KU Leuven)
"Personal data tracking in insurance: from solidarity to fairness"

Federica Lucivero (King's College London)
"Health and lifestyle: a blurring distinction in the age of direct to consumer generic tests and wellness apps" Link to project

Currently, STS is mostly researched at US and UK universities. Since STS as an academic field was born in the UK, anglophone influence in the field is considerable, and faculty members trained specifically in STS mostly hail from MIT. Of course, many also have followed unique interdisciplinary paths, as in the case of Professor Jasanoff (Mathematics, Linguistics and Law), among many others.

In Korea, the Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) offers a Master's and a PhD programme in Science and Technology Policy, with an interdisciplinary faculty, whose backgrounds range from Political Science, Philosophy of Science, Anthropology, and STS. Their 2015 visiting staff includes a former Assemblywoman.

In continental Europe, the ESST Network comprises 6 universities and offers the possibility ob obtaining an additional degree worth 60 ECTS upon approval of the Masters thesis at the Network level:

  • Autonomous University of Madrid, Spain (Spanish, 1 year)
  • IT Copenhagen University, Denmark (English, 2 years)
  • Maastricht University, the Netherlands (English, 1 year)
  • NKUA/NTUA, Athens, Greece (English, 1 year)
  • Strasbourg University, France (French, 2 years)
  • University of Oslo, Norway (Norwegian, 1 year)

Which explains why several people I talked to at the Trading Zones conference seemed puzzled when I explained I was a Masters student in STS at the University of Liège: ULg does not have the authority to award a degree in STS since it does not have an STS department. It is through its dual-degree convention with the University of Maastricht (which offers a 1-year Masters degree) that students can receive an STS (and if approved, an ESST) degree.

I was admitted to both Liège/Maastricht and Strasbourg, but chose the former for several reasons:

  1. Reputation of faculty and content of programme offered at Maastricht
  2. Possibility of improving French while being able to write my thesis in English
  3. Central location on European continent with easy access to anywhere for travel

In order to be admitted to Liège/Maastricht, you must contact STS coordinators at both universities, and send them one dossier containing your academic documents, an English test score, cv and motivation letter (nothing out of the ordinary). Since my iBT score was close to a full 120, I wasn't required to do a Skype interview, but some of the Belgian students did have to speak to the coordinators as part of the admission process.

Why not apply directly to Maastricht and save the time and money? Simple. My GPA probably wouldn't have been good enough for direct access with scholarship to Maastricht, and I wanted some time to "warm up"before starting a Master's which may lead to a PhD (the Walloonian students want a year to prepare for their year in English at Maastricht, since all their Bachelor studies are conducted in French at Liège) At Liège, my main goals are to perfect my French, get to a B2 level with German (language courses are free at Liège, while they cost up to 300€/2 months at Maastricht).

The Orange Tulip Scholarship, like many, are based on academic results. The Faculty of Social Studies at Maastricht (FaSoS) only offers two students the OTS award. Yay for competition. Professor Mesman, the STS coordinator at Maastricht, warned that it would be wise to not count on the scholarship, and the Liège coordinator, Dr. Delvenne, has informed me it would be possible to continue onto M2 at Liège in another track (international relations, political science, or public administration) if I was unsuccessful and could not afford the Year 2 fees (1,000€ for EU/EEA but 14,000€ for non-EU/EEA).

The University of Liège, however, has a strange policy which was only communicated once I started the school year: my thesis should be written in English during Year 2 at Maastricht, but my supervisor should be someone from ULg. It's an issue I'm currently trying to solve, since it doesn't seem logical for a university without an STS department to supervise students when its partner university does. Of course, the language of tuition is French at Liège, even though the staff has some international experience, which is not a core factor but still important considering my French is nowhere as good as my English.

Overall, I'm okay with the quality of life at ULg. The teaching is not spectacular, and some professors digress way too much in the lectures. I'm hoping the STS courses next term will be more interesting. However, the readings are very helpful, and for some strange reason students here don't borrow the essential readings, so I've got them all now.

Student life is quite good, considering the cheap fees for sports activities, language courses, and cost of living as compared to France or the Netherlands. And yes, good bear, good student discounts for travel (5€ for any destination within Belgium), great concerts in Brussels, and quite a number of international Erasmus students who socialise a lot.

The administration is, as usual in Europe, shit (I really want to say shite, but I can't do that with the proper accent, so I won't). ULg decided they'd try a new online platform without testing it beforehand, and now students can't access their course material. The Law Faculty has to enter all our information hand by hand, and we've been waiting since, well, mid-September. Haha. Fun.

But, otherwise, things are okay. Seoul is more fun, and yes, buses run more than once an hour on Sundays. Belgium, on the other hand, has a quieter charm. And lots of nature. Lots. Plus, the rain-all-year-round season means I have less problems with my rhinitis. Don't even need to use a humidifier, since it's always between 40% and 60% humidity.

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