AAAS helps scientists learn to communicate their work
This nonprofit helps scientists communicate clearly about their work and its value. Workshops, fellowships and programs enlist diverse minds
Engaging the public with science is part of the mission of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Its science communication workshops, mass media fellowships and public engagement awards are just a few ways AAAS is working to bridge the communications gap between scientists and the general public.
“We’re helping scientists create a dialogue with the public to increase understanding and engagement,” says Jeanne Braha, public engagement manager. “Stating scientific facts and hoping the knowledge sticks is not the best way to engage the public. We’re offering a different model for science-society relationships.”
Founded in 1848, AAAS is the publisher of Science magazine. It was also a pioneer in promoting the development of science and engineering at the national level and representing the interests of all its disciplines.
AAAS operates a variety of programs that help students, scientists and engineers of diverse backgrounds, including students and professionals with disabilities, to delve more deeply into their fields and become active nationally and internationally. Fellowships and awards recognize diverse researchers from early in their careers onward, and AAAS partners with minority scientific societies for conferences, events and special projects.
Communication workshops strip the jargon
AAAS Communicating Science Workshops are popular with students and faculty. Often held at universities, they are also available through research laboratories, agencies with research groups, and professional societies. The goal is to help scientists and engineers communicate effectively when writing grant proposals, discussing ideas with students, testifying before Congress, interviewing with media or participating in a public forum.
The program was originally funded by a National Science Foundation grant, but AAAS now generally requires a fee to offset the cost of bringing a team to campus.
The AAAS workshop team reviews the basics of good communication: determining both what is relevant to your audience, and what you want to communicate. Basic materials are posted on the AAAS website. “We help STEM professionals and students strip the jargon to help them be understood,” Braha says.
In 2013, Braha’s team held a series of workshops at the University of Maryland’s Advanced Program for Inclusive Excellence, which is aimed at supporting professional growth among women faculty members. Participants were trained in the use of social networking media as well as more traditional communications. They practiced their skills and recorded interviews so they could critique themselves.
Graduate students and post-docs often express an interest in sharing the work that is their passion with the public. “One of the great pleasures is seeing the increased confidence scientists have at the end,” Braha enthuses. “This is why we have maintained an emphasis on in-person workshops.
“Our programs reach many who are diverse,” Braha says. She adds that the strategies scientists learn enable them to communicate more effectively with many diverse audiences.
The AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows program places science and engineering students at media institutions for ten weeks during the summer. Students get media training at AAAS and spend the summer at their assigned organization. At the end of the summer they return to AAAS for workshops and discussions on how to use their new communication skills in academic or other careers in science.
Ten to fifteen Fellows have participated every year for the past forty years. This year, for the first time, two Spanish language organizations participated, Univision and Nuestra Tele Noticias. Over the years, almost 75 percent of participating students have been women.
Other key programs
The AAAS Science & Technology Policy Fellowships program provides opportunities for engineers and scientists to learn how to contribute to federal policy making and share their knowledge with policy makers. And its Center for Science, Technology and Security Policy provides scientific and technical expertise and collaboration to address national and international issues.
The AAAS-Lemelson Invention Ambassadors Program works to celebrate and raise awareness of inventors and inventions, and cultivate a diverse generation of inventors.
Entry Point, launched in 1996, is a program of the longstanding AAAS Project on Science, Technology and Disability. It recruits students with disabilities for STEM internships and co-ops.
Public engagement recognitions
The Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science has honored four young professionals since it was initiated, all from underrepresented minority groups.
The first award, in 2010, went to Lynford Goddard, an African American engineer who created programs for hard-to-reach audiences, including a summer program for high schoolers, Girls Learning Electrical Engineering. The 2013 recipient was Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, a neuroscientist studying the development of social emotion and self-awareness across cultures. She involves the Hispanic and Asian children of immigrant parents in her brain research on neurobiological mechanisms of social emotional development by showing them the results of their own brain scans. She hopes they’ll be intrigued. She makes use of their interest to discuss their plans for college, and she encourages them to consider science and engineering careers.
More experienced innovators have been recognized since 1987 with the AAAS Award for Public Engagement with Science. Past recipients have included Neil DeGrasse Tyson, the well-known astrophysicist and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City.
“The culture of science has its own code. We want to help scientists present ideas that members of the public can use, in a way they can relate to.”
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