Every week I post a quick Q&A with one of our bloggers on the network, so you can get to know them better. This week, I chat with Kate Clancy of Context and Variation blog.

Hello! Let's start with first things first. What is the name of your blog and why did you choose that name - what does it mean?

The name of my blog is Context and Variation. The name refers to what I think are two of the most important concepts in anthropology and human biology. Much of our behavior and physiology is context-dependent, instead of always having the same response regardless of the stimuli. And all that context-dependent behavior and physiology leads to lots of variation, variation that is under-appreciated in more medical views of human biology.

Where does the artwork for your banner come from, and what are you trying to convey with it?

The amazing Jacqueline Dillard made my banner. And we came up with the idea for the banner from the title of my blog, and the fact that I study women – we wanted to show women of a few different shapes – did anyone also notice the tilted uterus in one silhouette? And of course, reproductive state is another important factor that plays a role in variation, so one of the women is pregnant.

Tell us more about yourself - where are you from, how did you get into science?

I am from Brockton, Massachusetts, a city almost exactly between Boston and Providence. I had a few great high school science teachers, but didn’t think I was smart enough to become a scientist. Once I hit college, I realized I didn’t care if I had insecurities keeping me from thinking I was smart enough – I loved science, especially human reproductive physiology, so I was going to study it! The other thing holding me back was that I wasn’t sure if I could really do science the way I felt it needed to be done – with an understanding of history, feminist theory and cultural conditioning. So, I became a joint biological anthropology/women’s studies major and never looked back.

As I started to write my undergrad thesis I got the grad school bug – hey, I could do this for a living! So, I did. I went to grad school, completed my PhD, and eventually ended up where I am today, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Illinois.

How did you get into science blogging and science writing? What were the early influences on you regarding your blogging style and topics?

I read a number of academic blogs in grad school out of desperation. First I read ones in the humanities and social sciences, like New Kid in the Hall, Profgrrrrl and Dr. Crazy. But I eventually found the scientists, and then eventually the female scientists. Anne Jefferson, Dr. Isis, Janet Stemwedel, Tara Smith, and Scicurious were my early influences.

I single out my female scientist inspirations because they showed me you could take risks in your writing and not die. At first I wrote safe blog posts, in the event that a colleague followed me. I didn’t want a colleague to see me making suppositions, or extending the thinking of an article or, worse yet, criticizing something. After a while, I realized that other women were doing it, and that I shouldn’t silence myself. I knew I had a perspective to offer that I wasn’t reading anywhere else – women-centered science that could appeal to my colleagues as well as layreaders. So I started doing it, and that gave me the confidence to start to also write some critiques of evolutionary psychology.

What is your blog about? Who is your target audience, and why do you think people should read your blog?

My blog is about my field: evolutionary medicine and women’s health. I also cover evolutionary psychology, medicine, science education, and life of science issues. My target audience is colleagues who appreciate someone who takes a risk or two in her writing, to students looking for basic information in women’s health or biological anthropology, and the many, many women who just wished they better understood how their bodies worked. I also hope I capture the interest of grad students looking for mentorship, and the stray male non-mansplainer who finds the study of women’s health interesting.

Anything else interesting about you, perhaps cool hobbies?

Well, since you asked J… I play roller derby for my local league, the Twin City Derby Girls in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. I am mostly a blocker, but have started jamming recently and am having a lot of fun with it. Roller derby is fast and full-contact: while it fills up my schedule, it also keeps me sane so that I can be a more successful professor, mother and blogger. I have a young daughter who fills up all the rest of my time, and I am a better person for it.

Thank you!!!


Previously in this series:

Michelle Clement

Janet Stemwedel

Charles Q. Choi


Jennifer Ouellette