By William Harms
Photo by Robert Kozloff

As a cultural and medical anthropologist, Eugene Raikhel has focused his research on the anthropology of science; biomedicine and psychiatry; addiction and its treatment; suggestion and healing; and post-socialist transformations in Eurasia. In his forthcoming book, Governing Habits: Addiction and the Therapeutic Market in Contemporary Russia, he looks at institutions dealing with substance abuse in Russia over the past 20 years. He also is preparing for new exploration into how research in neurobiology shapes diagnosis and treatment for addiction, and an ethnographic study on how neuroscientists, geneticists, and psychiatrists explain suicide by drawing upon the newest scientific knowledge.

How do you feel about getting this award?

It’s a huge honor, especially as it comes from the students. I’m really touched, and more than a little surprised to be recognized this way!

Tell me about your teaching approach. Is there is anything you do with graduate students you find particularly effective?

I think that the first two years of graduate school in the social sciences are largely about getting a handle on a range of key texts and concepts and figuring out how you might use them in your own research. So I try to make my graduate seminars a space where students can start to work out their own interpretations of these concepts, but I also try to always return to the question of “How do we use these ideas as tools for thinking and research?” For example, in one of my courses we spend a week reading theories of narrative as they’ve been used in the medical humanities and social sciences. We read some foundational texts about narrative and illness and some that are critical of this approach, but also we discuss the concrete implications for ethnographic research.

What is your source of inspiration in teaching graduate students?

More than anything else, I’m motivated by the actual experience of working closely with graduate students on their research. Much of the advising process in the humanistic social sciences involves learning about the very concrete details of students’ projects, which are often on topics relatively distant from one’s own research interests. I find the process of working with a student as she or he develops an idea into a realizable dissertation project, and then carries it out, to be both deeply challenging and extremely gratifying.

What do you enjoy most about teaching graduate students?

There’s an exciting point at which working with graduate students starts to feel less like a didactic process and more like a collaborative one, when we’re really reading and thinking together and I’m learning as much as they are. 

What about graduate students here, what is special about UChicago graduate students?

The students here are outstanding: they’re very creative, but they also set very high standards for themselves and are extremely hard-working. It is really a privilege to get to work with them.

What do you know now that you would like to share with other faculty?

Don’t hesitate to ask for advice and share ideas with your colleagues! I’ve been lucky to have some very generous and experienced colleagues from whom I’ve learned an enormous amount about teaching, especially Jennifer Cole, Judy Farquhar, John Lucy, and Richard Taub. And I’ve also learned a lot from talking to graduate students themselves, and getting their feedback about different classroom and mentoring strategies.

Originally published on June 3, 2013.