This is a post by Dr. Adriana Bankston.
Future of Research participated in the S|GNS (Science | Government, Institutions & Society) Summit held in Chicago, IL, from July 6-8, 2018. This was an amazing event bringing together members of communities that rarely interact but are deeply invested in the future of science in society. There were many great presentations and discussions revolving around the three focus areas of the event: science advocacy, education & outreach, and community organizing. If you would to review the @FORsymp tweets from the event, please look up #SIGNS2018.
The workshop given by Future of Research (Adriana Bankston, Harinder Grewal, Dean Procter, Gary McDowell) was entitled “Questioning the Status Quo: Re-imagining Pathways, Structures, and Incentives in Scientific Careers” and in the science advocacy category. The workshop description from the program is below.
Prior to the workshop, we initially prepared a slide deck designed to focus on recommendations for change in the scientific enterprise, leading to the formation of FoR as a nonprofit, and discussions of the 2016 FoR meeting on Advocating for Science where we learned about views of the academic community around science advocacy. However, upon attending the S|GNS Summit and gaining a better understanding of the audience, we refocused the talk on how FoR seeks to empower early career researchers through grassroots movements. We then guided the group discussions around ways in scientists can achieve change and how the S|GNS Summit community can support their advocacy efforts towards improving society.
This workshop structure resulted in a great discussion around the three main questions. The participants were PhD students, postdocs, a recent graduate from undergrad, a senior research associate and other. It was encouraging to see a good mix of researchers at different stages in their careers thinking about their scientific future now.
Summaries of the discussion from each question are below (some with direct quotes, some with the general topic):
#1 What are the specific barriers that junior scientists face in effecting change, and how could these barriers be overcome? There were many more barriers than solutions, and they vary quite a bit around areas that we largely expected to hear.
BARRIERS TO CHANGE:
- A system that drives valuable scientists away from science (“is it worth it? it’s easy and better to leave”) due to little reward to fight for the” ultra-competitive academic positions,” unless you are “invested in martyrdom”
- Power dynamics which also prevents people from “taking you seriously”
- A toxic environment that “prioritizes work/output over health/happiness” which also “leaves little room for effecting change”
- Unrealistic or unclear expectations
- Job instability, together with not being financially rewarded well
- Lack of diversity and fewer women in leadership positions
- Lack of role models and support
- Reincentivize, restructure, or “destroy tenure as an institution” altogether, and/or incentivize other things over tenure
- Change funding system to allow for more independence, potentially use crowdsourcing
- Implement the Ombudsman system at each institution
#2 What training do scientists need to effectively influence society? An obvious need is training researchers to communicate their science to various audiences in both speaking and writing, and having this training be incentivized, although it was unclear where this training should come from.
- General training needs: mentorship, leadership, marketing
- Writing and speaking to various audiences, including publishing research in “more dynamic and accessible formats than research journals” and more “interactions with the end user of science”
- Other areas to consider: intersectionality, interdisciplinarity, solidarity, work-life balance
HOW TO OBTAIN TRAINING:
- Incentivize it and require service hours (beyond tenure)
- Provide writing classes (for science majors) and find avenues for specific advocacy skills
- Involve scientific societies in teaching these skills
- Have a place for uniform resource aggregation
- Specifics that can be done: creating your own grad student science communication group, joining Toastmasters
#3 How could this community more effectively support scientists and their advocacy efforts? These responses revolved around the ability of scientists to share their work with the public, as well as the need for non-scientists to become more educated about news, and the March for Science being used as a way to reach out to various groups.
- “Understanding the capacity of scientists to get involved”
- “Educate non-scientists about real news”
- Scientists could partner with teachers
- March for Science as a way to link scientists to other groups for engagement
- Centralize/coalesce resources (including the Summit crowd)
- General: amplification, endorsement, inclusivity and advocacy for scientists from all walks of life
Productive group discussions during the workshop.
Overall, there was clear awareness around the issues in academia and barriers that would prevent scientists from advocating in public. At the same time, this community was aware of the fact that we all have a role to play in improving the system and supporting scientists in advocacy. Interestingly for us, who have largely given these kinds of workshops to an academic audience, was the awareness of this audience about the issues faced by scientists in academia, as well as the need to train scientists to explain their science to various audiences in order to positively influence society.
Materials from the session, some of which was also presented during the workshop.