Murray, who earned his master’s degree from the University of California, Santa Cruz and is working toward his Ph.D. there, first studied lab-grown meat under the tutelage of Jonathan Clark, an associate professor of sociology. As a senior at Ursinus, he earned distinguished honors for his honors thesis on the same topic and presented the work at an academic conference.
In December 2017, Murray’s article, “Meat cultures: Lab-grown meat and the politics of contamination,” was published in BioSocieties. Murray considers his summer fellows and honors work at Ursinus as the opportunity that began his work as a doctoral researcher.
The following is a Q&A with Murray.
What inspired you to pursue this topic as a summer fellow at Ursinus?
I came to Ursinus as a biology major and took a sociology class during my first year. I was exposed to environmental sociology for the first time. I switched my major pretty quickly and was especially interested in animal agriculture. [Clark] floated the idea to me about lab-grown meat and it developed into a Summer Fellows project after his “Animals and Society” course.
As a Summer Fellow, it was my first opportunity to devote more than just a semester’s worth of work to the same topic. I got to read a lot of theories and apply them to the problem of lab-grown meat. I felt like I wanted to continue the work and spin it into a concrete academic article.
What is lab-grown meat and what is the basis of your published article?
It doesn’t really exist yet. It’s a speculative technology. It takes what originally developed as a medical technology—culturing mammalian cells for testing pharmaceuticals, for example—and using it to also culture edible mammalian cells. The paper rejects the idea that they are simply the same as meat, or that meat is simply muscle cells. I ask whether this is really the route we want to take as a society towards sustainable food production.
What kind of impact do you think this article will have on the industry?
What I’m vying for is a greater democratization of these types of technological developments. A lot of times, these developments seem to happen in a way where there’s this big idea and a lot of effort goes into selling it, rather than having a conversation about different paths to take.
What did you learn during your summer fellows and undergraduate research at Ursinus that impacts your work as doctoral student now?
Summer fellows really helped prepare me for graduate school because it’s an opportunity to work one-on-one with professors. You get a lot of that at Ursinus already with small class sizes, but the relationship you have with an adviser if you have a summer fellowship or do an honors thesis is much closer to what you get doing graduate school research. It helped give me a good jump on graduate school in a lot of ways and a lot of people I met at graduate school didn’t have that same experience.
The best aspects of summer fellows were really being able to focus on one research topic without having to worry about other coursework, which is really quite a luxury; the environment of living and working alongside other students who were also pursuing research projects they were passionate about; and learning how to sustain a longer writing project that is more than a typical term paper.
Presenting at the conference gave me a better sense of the work necessary to succeed in academia, and of how academic discourse happens. —By Ed Moorhouse