Beth Shirley, College of Humanities and Social Sciences PDRF

Beth Shirley PDRF Highlight Utah State University

Beth’s emphasis is, in her words, not “floofy” writing; it’s purely technical communication with a focus on “non-human actors as having rhetorical agency” and her goal is to help scientists better communicate their findings so that they are accessible and digestible to the public. Her main scientific interest is in climate change and is especially interested in how technology affects our relationship with the environment and vice versa.

One of her favorite theories used to explain human relationship to technology is cyborg theory. The more reliant humans become on technology the more we resist admitting how attached we are to it. Beth says she loves how messy the topic can become because people disagree about what really makes a cyborg.

Beth says she has friends that don’t like her calling them cyborgs at all because they spend a lot of time in nature but her response to them is “Well yeah, but you use technology. You use hiking boots, you probably use a map, and a compass, even if you’re not using a high tech GPS, you use a backpack, you use a tent that probably has some kind of technology label on it.” She says that as a society we are very technologically embodied and, whether we like it or not, that has an effect on the environment.

Beth’s dissertation here at USU focuses on comparing grant proposals written by the Utah Conservation Core to see if the language they sued to talk about nature affected whether or not the proposal was accepted or rejected. She also has a special interest in how Utah views public lands.

“Climate change is the biggest challenge our generation is facing but people in Utah are denying its existence.” Beth points out how conservative Utah is but that many Utahns don’t want to conserve (for example: idling on inversion days). Beth says one of the reasons she chose USU was because it is an R1 (land grant) university and because of that there is a lot of opportunities to work with people in the sciences and help improve things here.

Beth recently took a research opportunity in Morocco doing sociological research. There she studied an association focused on helping women in rural villages become financially independent. She lived with a host family that spoke no English, and she was able to learn some Arabic during this time.

Though this opportunity wasn’t directly tied into Beth’s research interests, she says it was an opportunity where she was still able to observe things related to climate change and conservation. “Climate change is well accepted there as anthropogenic,” and the government does what it can to help the country conserve by subsidizing drip irrigation systems for farmers and by creating one of the largest solar fields in the world. Beth hopes to go back someday to learn more about their perceptions of climate change.

In addition to writing and research, Beth says she loves teaching and watching her students improve and grow more confident in their writing abilities. Beth also enjoys skiing, rock climbing and backpacking with her dogs.