Faculty members receive Guggenheim Fellowship
Wilson School and psychology professor Eldar Shafir, politics professor Melissa Lane, ecology and evolutionary biology professor Laura Landweber and visual arts professor Eve Aschheim were named winners last week.
The Guggenheim Fellowship, intended to assist scholars in research and artistic creation, was presented to a total of 181 scholars, artists and scientists in the United States and Canada. The candidates were selected from a pool of almost 3,000 based on both their prior accomplishments and future promise, according to the Foundation’s website.
All the professors who won said they planned to use the Fellowship grant, which varied in amount, to further fund their research or academic work.
Shafir said he plans to use the grant to continue a research project that has been ongoing for several years. Shafir and his team study the psychology of scarcity — the psychology of “not having enough,” he said.
The research team is most interested in studying how the poor deal with scarcity, he said. But studies show that a very similar psychology also applies to people who are stressed and lack free time, such as students, people who are lonely and lack social connections and people who are dieting and lack sufficient calories, he said.
“The idea is that there is a psychology that comes from not having enough, and it makes you focus heavily on what you don’t have,” Shafir explained. “This makes you neglect things that are outside the domain of your focus, and people tend to over-borrow and misplan.”
Shafir is working heavily with his close friend and colleague, Harvard economist Sendhil Mullainathan. Their team is running numerous experiments and plans to write a book detailing the findings from its research.
“To a large extent, this Guggenheim is really time to finish writing up and continue a number of studies in this general area,” Shafir stated.
Lane specializes in ancient Greek political theory and said she will use the Guggenheim grant to further her work on her project, which she calls the “rule of knowledge.” Her work has two main parts: an analysis of Plato’s politics and its implications for modern scientific thought.
“I think that understanding how Plato thought knowledge could rule in the soul and the implications of developing that kind of rule writ large in politics poses the question: What is the place of knowledge in political theory?” she explained in a follow-up email.
While half of Lane’s project will examine this dilemma in Plato, the other half will explore implications of knowledge, particularly in relation to science in modern political theory, she said. Lane is part of a project, sponsored by the Princeton Institute for International and Regional Studies, which looks at the ethics and politics of communicating scientific uncertainty. This is “the most public-facing element of the research,” Lane said.
Lane recently published a book, called “Eco-Republic,” in which she uses Platonic thought as a template for thinking about social stability. “I would say that that is at the heart of thinking about ecological sustainability,” she said.
Landweber specializes in the molecular evolution of complex single-celled organisms and the origin of genetic information. Her lab performs both wet-lab and computational research, she said in an email.
Landweber’s current work involves the role of RNA in passing on heritable information from parents to progeny. Although many believe that this task is limited solely to DNA, she said, it turns out that RNA can provide much information as well. This places her work in the realm of “epigenetics,” as it leaves the realm of conventional tasks of DNA, Landweber said.
“Just that it’s always been important to me to work on something relatively non-mainstream, this is the biology that captivates me the most,” she stated.
Aschheim said she plans to use the Guggenheim to continue the paintings that she recently began. In these pieces of art, she said she attempts “to make a dynamic abstract structure that exists between categories of language and thought,” she said in an email.
In these color paintings, Aschheim said she is striving for more than simply a set image.
“I am after something more elusive and less stable — implied motion, states in the midst of change and a fictive reality that exists between multiple visual constructions,” she explained.
In her works of art, Aschheim begins with “nothing.” Then, she builds “through the articulation of pictorial structures and empty space” and ends with a final result that attempts to “make memorable experience that cannot be corralled by memory,” she added.
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