Science communication and advocacy have become very important to scientists today, perhaps more than ever before. After the successful science marches throughout the country and abroad, the next critical step is to keep this dialogue open and provide the public with sufficient avenues to stay connected to science. Such efforts should foster a continued interaction between scientists and their communities.
As a member of Scientists Inc., a national science outreach organization, I had the opportunity to make this idea a reality by organizing the Bay Area chapter of our annual science festival – taste of science. It was a wonderful experience bringing these amazing scientists out to bars and cafés to talk about their science to the public, sometimes with live demos, sometimes with music. taste of science is a excellent platform to connect the public to science – and the beauty is that it’s run by volunteers across the country, most of whom are ECRs.
Taking a risk…and reaping the rewards!
Many of our ECRs had not been on such a public stage before, but they took a leap of faith and agreed to give talks. In the end, they thoroughly enjoyed the experience! General speaking opportunities can help ECRs to zoom out and look at the big picture perspective of their science. Getting in touch with this larger view is helpful not only for community engagement but also in your professional life. For instance, it might help you in explaining your science and its relevance to grant reviewers or potential sponsors. It can also be a highly motivating experience – especially witnessing public excitement for your research and then getting the chance to have deeper conversations! Life as an ECR can be really hard at times, so it’s great to remind yourself why you love science in the first place.
For me, taste of science wasn’t just about sharing knowledge; I found that it was a great opportunity to humanize science. Sharing a beer or a joke with a person carrying the ‘scientist’ label instantly takes the edge off of cold attitudes towards scientists and science. It’s a good way to break down the wall between the ‘scientists’ and ‘lay audience’. We must also remember that all of us are a ‘lay audience’ when we’re not dealing with our own expertise. The breadth and depth of science and other knowledge is so vast that no one can know everything – we must instead share and learn from each other.
As an ECR it can be a daunting task to take time out of your already packed work hours to participate in such initiatives, be it as a speaker, organizer or audience, but it is totally worth it. We can stay locked up in laboratories and keep complaining about the social and political climate around science – but keep in mind that no one can be your advocate better than you. Get involved in your local science cafés, science outreach organizations and make the bridge between the academic ivory towers and the community. If no such thing exists in your community, start one! If you need support, Scientists Inc. is always happy to help you set up events in your city.
Featured image taken by author at taste of science in San Francisco.