Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

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Lindsay Poirier

Ph.D. Science and Technology Studies

Hometown: Blackstone, MA
Undergraduate Study: Information Technology and Web Science, Science and Technology Studies (dual) at RPI
Faculty Advisor: Kim Fortun




Describe your graduate research and its purpose/applications.

I am a cultural anthropologist, and I study communities that design data infrastructure – such as data structures, data taxonomies, and data ontologies.  I am interested in characterizing how computer scientists and other data practitioners think about language when they design infrastructure for structuring data and making it interpretable as it travels through diverse settings.  In cultural anthropology, we know that language tells us a great deal about the culture of a society; consider the way pronouns like ‘he’ and ‘she’ have taken on new political meaning as LBGTQ concerns have been taken more seriously in the U.S. In my research, I examine the way that computers scientists and data practitioners think about language to 1) document the "culture" of computing and 2) show how the design of data infrastructures are interwoven with cultural dynamics or, in other words, how they come to embody particular ways of seeing the world. With data being such an important civic resource for addressing contemporary problems – such as mass incarceration, environmental injustices, and rampant homelessness and hunger – I hope that my research can provoke computers scientists and data practitioners to develop strategies for designing data infrastructure to be able to more ethically represent diverse populations and worldviews.

What are your hobbies and interests?

I am a dancer and choreographer, and have recently become quite interested in the history of American dance, in particular how it reflects American culture. 

What made you decide to attend Rensselaer? 

I attended Rensselaer as an undergraduate, and at that time, Rensselaer stood out from other schools for two reasons. First, for me, it was the perfect size for a university.  I wanted to attend a school where I could run into people that I knew every day but also could meet new people every day.  Second, Rensselaer had a unique culture – one where "geeking out" was not quite fetishized but also not looked down upon. I chose to stay at RPI through graduate school for entirely different reasons – because I found a set of advisors that cared deeply about my success and treated me more like a colleague than a student. 

What are some benefits of being part of the graduate community at Rensselaer?

There is a rather close-knit graduate community within my department at Rensselaer.  We often get together to watch major world events, like the presidential debates, and will go out for drinks to celebrate each other’s achievements.  Our department helps us support each other’s research by hosting weekly "brown bag" lunch sessions, where students can practice and get feedback on upcoming conference talks or job talks. Rensselaer’s STS program is also historically known for its political activism, so graduate students and faculty often attend local events together and help undergraduate students raise awareness for causes they care about.   I’ve also been lucky enough to get to know graduate students in both computer science and information technology through collaborative research projects, which has helped me branch my research into new fields. 

As a part of Rensselaer’s graduate community, I’ve both road-tripped to conferences with fellow graduate students and traveled with them internationally.  I’ve visited sobering research field sites with fellow graduate students and had an opportunity to help them with inspiring community-building efforts. In the process, I’ve met life-long friends, made some quirky memories, and learned a whole lot more than I would have had I experienced it all on my own.  

What would you tell a prospective student about choosing Rensselaer?

Take advantage of downtown Troy!  When I first came to Rensselaer in 2009, I was encouraged not to venture downtown.  However, over the last ten years, Troy has really become a vibrant and exciting place to live and research – with one of the best farmer’s markets in the capital region, many new restaurants and bars, independent artist collectives, and a historic charm.  And there are many wonderful community members thinking about how to make downtown a more welcoming, sustainable, and inclusive space, looking to harness the energy of smart RPI students!

What are your plans following graduation?

Following graduation, I hope to get a tenure-track professorship job.  I particularly enjoy teaching engineers and computer scientists to think critically about the fields in which they will work and to harness their skills towards the betterment of civic society.