I work at a minority serving institution (MSI). As a faculty member I am committed to educating my students so that they will be creative and accomplished cell biologists. I am also aware that I really want to do even more to give them the resources they need to do cutting-edge science. Although I am committed to the students and to my MSI, I am not a “PEER”—a person excluded from science because of my ethnicity or race. Nonetheless I think I could be an effective advocate for institutions like
my own and for the students who attend my institution and other MSIs. I have done such work informally, on the fly and without training. What resources can I use to become a more effective advocate?
—Trying to become an Advocate
Labby believes that advocacy is an important part of the work of every scientist, particularly those whose research is supported by federal funding. Further, as a faculty member at an MSI, you have a very important voice in the process of making science more diverse, equitable, and inclusive.
MSIs play a vital role in educating large numbers of talented students. As you probably know, MSIs are generally under-resourced, so you are right that you can amplify your efforts by reaching outside the institution. As an advocate you need to help others understand the context of your institution, the major strengths that have helped your students become successful in STEM, and the role the institution plays in your community, in science innovation, and training the next generation of scientists.
“Advocacy” means different things to different people and is often based on one’s interest and comfort level. While most people think it involves meeting with elected officials and urging support or opposition for a particular bill, it can also entail reaching out to local civic organizations and increasing public awareness for the work being done by the scientists in their community. Advocacy can also involve helping local reporters understand the background of new medical advances. (A timely example of important advocacy is to help the public, a reporter, or even an elected official understand just what mRNA research is and why it is so important to the world right now.)
The ASCB webpage has helpful information about how to be an advocate, regardless of your area of interest or the amount of time you have to spend. The Policy and Outreach tab on the homepage of the website will lead you to communication toolkits that have been assembled by the ASCB’s Public Information Committee (www.ascb.org/science-policy-public-outreach/science-outreach/communication-toolkits). The Public Policy Committee (PPC) has assembled information on the policy work of the Society (www.ascb.org/science-policy-public-outreach/advocacy-policy) and an Advocacy Toolkit (www.ascb.org/science-policy-public-outreach/advocacy-policy/science-policy-advocacy-outreach) with one-pagers on various ways to be an advocate for science, including information on how to do Zoom advocacy.
Each ASCB|EMBO annual meeting also has sessions related to advocacy.
If you have questions, you can always contact Labby’s friend ASCB Director of Public Policy Kevin Wilson (firstname.lastname@example.org). Kevin is more than happy to help anyone interested in becoming an advocate.
As the PPC website says, “Science advocacy takes as much time as you have to give.”