How Can We Let Them Know?

Science is at the crossroads: Amazing discoveries are being made every day but there is a severe reduction in funding for biomedical research. Most scientific funding comes from government agencies, and I believe it is put toward the common good of both scientists and nonscientists. But do nonscientists believe that?

Studies 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.

Send any suggestions and comments to bruno.darocha-azevedo@utsouthwestern.edu

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.

About the Author:


Bruno Da Rocha-Azevedo is a Senior Staff Scientist in the Department of Biophysics at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Bruno studies the spatiotemporal dynamics of endothelial cell receptors using single molecule imaging. He was one of the founding members of COMPASS, and co-chair during 2015-2016. Bruno was the founder and co-chair of the Task Force on LGBTQ+ Diversity and currently is a member. Bruno also volunteered on the ASCB 5-year strategic plan, helping on creating the guidelines for further democratizing the society by ensuring leadership and decision making reflect the broad range of the membership and their interests and priorities E-mail: brunodarochaazevedo@gmail.com Twitter: @brunodra