Who am I?

This is the personal blog of Dr. Kathryn Clancy, Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. On top of being an academic, Kate is a mother, a wife, an athlete, a labor activist, a sister, and a daughter. You can find her Laboratory for Evolutionary Endocrinology's site here.

What is this blog about?

I am interested in promoting science literacy, and improving communication between scientists and laypeople as well as faculty and students. This tends to boil down to two main science topics: human behavior, because I teach a non-majors course of 750 students on it, and women's reproductive functioning, because that is my area of expertise and first scholarly love. I think both of these topics deserve continued attention by academics on the internet, because we need to operate against prevailing notions of what they mean.

For human behavior, it means ridding ourselves of the idea that we can boil all human behaviors down to adaptations, and that all behaviors, preferences and feelings are universal.

For women's reproductive functioning, it means acknowledging that the primary characteristic of women's biology is that it is always changing. This means that narrow interpretations of normal, while pervasive in medicine, should be challenged.

This is how the concept of Context and Variation as a blog name was borne. I think these are two of the best concepts to come out of anthropology and evolutionary biology. Context, synonymous with ecology, lifestyle, or environment, is how we understand behavior or physiology relative to a person's situation. This means we understand anything from someone's decision to go to college to their morning testosterone levels in the context of their socioeconomic status, religion, culture, age, birth order, personality, access to resources, nutrition, evolutionary history, and many other factors.

Variation is what we get when lots of people have different contexts. Whether one is married or a father, whether one is able to get three square meals a day or not, and how hard one has to work for that food, all impact testosterone levels. Even lifestyle factors that seem innocuous, like whether you ride your bike to work or drive, can impact your progesterone concentrations (this is a female reproductive hormone).

Context and variation together help us understand humans (and any other species) as complicated. But they also help to show us that biology is not immutable, that it does not define us from the moment of our birth. Rather, our environment pushes and pulls our genes into different reaction norms that help us predict behavior and physiology. But, as humans make our environments, we have the ability to change the very things that change us. We often have more control over our biology than we may think.

As this blog hums along, this is something that will come up again, particularly as it relates to prevention, etiology and evolutionary medicine.

What is the image in the background?

The image that serves as a background for the blog is from the Mogielica Human Ecology Site in southern Poland where I do my field research.