Friday, 09 August 2013 00:00

How Can We Let Them Know?

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science and society.emfStudies have shown that approximately 60% of the population in the United States is very interested to know more about medical discoveries1 and 65% of the population would like to know more about biomedical research2. Sixty percent of the public gave scientists a "great deal" score in terms of confidence, putting scientists in the same level as medical professionals and the military (and ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court, religious organizations, TV, U.S. Congress, and the press)1. Based on this data, it is clear that society wants to hear our voice. But are we talking to them? Do scientists leave their benches and reach out to nonscientists? Do we engage in outreach to lay audiences properly?

Recent polls show that 58% of scientists are somehow involved in work/volunteering activities translating science to individuals outside the scientific community3. If we just look at graduate student and postdoc commitment to outreach, 54% of grad students are committed to some type of outreach, but this number drops to one-third when their postdoctoral training starts3. That is, we are all using taxpayer dollars do our research, but only about half of scientists are trying to explain to the people what we are doing with it. How can we improve this scenario? How can we share our enjoyment of science with people who want to hear our voice (in addition to paying our salaries and sponsoring our research)?

In this challenging scenario, the creation of the outreach subcommittee by our Committee for Postdocs and Students (COMPASS) comes in to help and orient ASCB students and postdocs to reach out to a broader audience. Our subcommittee is composed of eight COMPASS members, and our three central objectives are:

1) Reach out to nonscientists and share what we do.
2) Reach out to student and show them that science is fun.
3) Reach out to students that already love science and reward and motivate them to stay involved in science.

Our subcommittee is working closely with the Public Information Committee (PIC) on projects such as the Celldance video contest to create videos that can amaze and inform the public. We also want to be active agents in promoting school visits to labs and universities and being involved in science fairs, to provide inspiration for the future generation of scientists. And much more!

The challenges are many. We know that time spent in activities outside the labs is extremely limited, but if we work together, a lot of great things can be done. Moreover, being a good outreach agent does not make you a bad scientist, as shown by a recent study4. Plus, receiving feedback from nonscientists will make you a more grateful and happier scientist. We hope to see you all engaged in the near future!

Bruno da Rocha-Azevedo
and the COMPASS Outreach Subcommittee members.

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1National Science Foundation. 2012. Science and Engineering Indicators. Science and Technology: Public Attitudes and Understanding. Chapter 7. 
2Research!America. 2004. America speaks. Volume 5.
3Ecklund EH et al. 2012. How academic biologists and physicists view science outreach. PLoS ONE. 7, e36240.
4Jensen P et al. 2008. Scientists who engage with society perform better academically. Science and Public Policy. 7, 527-541.

Bruno da Rocha-Azevedo

Bruno Da Rocha-Azevedo has been interested in how cells interact with their environment since college. During his Ph.D. studies and his first postdoc in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Richmond, VA, Bruno discovered how pathogenic amoebas interact with host mammalian cells and components of the host extracellular matrix, applying Cell Biology concepts in Microbiology. Currently as postdoctoral researcher at the Dept.of Cell Biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Bruno is expanding his knowledge of cell - microenvironment relationships studying the interaction between fibroblasts and three-dimensional collagen matrices as a model to study skin wound healing at Fred Grinnell's lab.

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