How to be a Scientist in a World that Doesn’t Always Appreciate Science

by Alannie-Grace Grant Nov. 2016

Please note the ideas expressed here are my own and not the ASN’s. This blog is written not to take sides, but rather address a perspective.

The results of the most recent United States Presidential election have caused some concern within the scientific community in regard to science funding, acceptance of science, and generally the role that science will play in the president elect’s governing strategy. We do not fully know what the future has in store, but we can create a plan to make the best of a potentially bad situation and succeed! Below are a few things I think graduate students should keep in mind.

  • Stay focused – The election happened and despite how emotional you may feel, life goes on. You should still stay focused on getting your degree or on other career plans. If you are having difficulties staying on track due to the election or other issues in your life, do not be afraid to reach out to your campus’ mental health center. You may also consider some form of meditation or mindfulness to help ease anxiety and relieve stress.
  • Think of others – Regardless of your specific opinions on the outcome, to maintain a respectful and professional school/work environment it is good to think of other people’s feelings. Do not harass or belittle anyone for a specific view point and provide assistance or a friendly ear to anyone who is feeling emotional.
  • Be cautious around undergraduates – Avoid conversations with undergraduate students about election results. That said, if students are allowed to talk during parts of class time, do allow them to discuss among themselves. Stopping such conversations may make the students feel censored. If students become rowdy or disrespectful, ask them to stop the conversation.
  • Explore your community & be an advocate – the world is bigger than just your lab or university. Go out be a part of the campus and greater communities. What are the big issues facing these communities? Once issues are identified, you should make the effort to communicate this to your legislators and vote accordingly! The most effective way to communicate to legislators is by phone. Phone calls are actually answered by aids as they come in, for the most part, and can have large impact. Letters and email are far less effective simply due to the volume a particular legislator may receive. Beyond traditional forms of communication, actually inviting the legislator and/or their aids to some event where the topic will be discussed will bring greater visibility to the concern. For example, if the issue is with updating children’s textbooks due to misinformation, maybe invite them to the school and have them see for themselves or have children show them the mistakes. Make sure you express to your representatives that the public has a need for science funding and education.
  • Get better at communicating science – many people in our line of work – ecology and evolutionary biology (and related fields like environmental science) – fear the importance of their work to be reduced under the new administration. “Science is not a special interest group,” is something I saw on my social media recently. We are not self-serving; we simply want to understand our systems or certain phenomena, and if we can, also save the world. We need to get out there and let the public know this. This means creative outreach that goes beyond making workshops for schoolchildren. We need to reach out to adults! Examples of these include the Pint of Science and World Science Festivals. Events can be organized on a smaller scale to interest non-scientists on important and interesting science. You may generally want to brush up on science communication skills as well by attending workshops and getting practice at conferences.
  • Plan for the worst – remain optimistic, but be aware of the possibilities. What will science be like with severe cuts to funding? How will you excel in the face of such adversity? Make a plan and seriously thing about what you would do in the worst-case scenario.
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