When Sheila S. Jasanoff ’64 entered Radcliffe College in 1960, she defied the image of a typical “Radcliffe girl.”
For one, she was over two years younger than most of the other freshmen, after being placed ahead of her age’s grade level when her family moved from Mumbai to suburban New York four years earlier. Jasanoff concentrated in mathematics, which was a choice Amy M. Cohen-Corwin ’64, her college friend and fellow mathematics concentrator, described as “extremely uncommon” for students at Radcliffe.
She was also one of the few South Asian students on campus at the time. “Most of the people we met had never met an Indian before,” Jasanoff recalled. “It was not a particularly diverse student body at the time.”
These atypical traits and choices during her time at Radcliffe foreshadowed her varied and trailblazing academic career.
After concentrating in mathematics as an undergraduate, Jasanoff completed her M.A. and Ph.D. in linguistics. She then received a J.D. from Harvard Law School, after which she focused on environmental law. Then, Jasanoff settled into her present field of Science and Technology Studies, which she helped pioneer. In 1998, she returned to Harvard, a place Jasanoff said she and her family have always been particularly attached to. She is currently a professor of Science and Technology Studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Although Jasanoff said that her career trajectory has been propelled by the “accidental convergence” of opportunities, her friends and family credit her personal and professional success to her kind, pragmatic personality and her creative, adaptive mind.
MAKING AN IMPRESSION
While at Radcliffe, Jasanoff made a strong impression. Edith D. Sylla ’63, who Jasanoff said was her closest friend in college, recalled that Jasanoff was very thoughtful, practical, and talented.
Though Jasanoff described Radcliffe as an “intimidating experience,” Sylla said, “I didn’t perceive Sheila as being more insecure than other people. I would have said she was very grounded.”