In an era of “alternative facts” and polarized politics that spurns scientific consensus, it is more important than ever that scientists are not only allowed but encouraged to be engaged in public and political discourse.
With the scientific community still battling the isolationist, siloed philosophy that has traditionally defined our interactions with the public, we are fortunate that many young scientists are rising to this occasion of public need. Despite the antisocial stereotypes associated with scientists and engineers, many enthusiastically pursue opportunities to translate our science via public outreach and communication.
One important facet of this outreach is applying their skills to governance and policy, which is where the National Science Policy Network (NSPN) comes in. Our mission is to provide resources, networking and training to the growing groups of scientists and engineers who want to serve as both advocates and advisors in the public sector.
It is essential that our generation of scientists and engineers strives to remove barriers to amplifying our collective voice and that we build solidarity among those who want to engage with their community as informed citizens. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook have allowed many of us to engage and support each other online, but building and strengthening our community requires moving from behind the computer screens to humanize and connect young scientists to each other and to the general public.
This past weekend NSPN hosted its annual symposium. The event was a critical step towards challenging a rusted status quo of distant scientists and showcasing the strength and numbers of our community. The symposium brought together over 250 young science professionals for a weekend of building connections and catalyzing action. We hosted a variety of speakers and panels ranging from Science Advocacy 101 to a panel on rebuilding a sustainable and resilient Puerto Rico through science.
To bridge the widening gap between scientific expertise and public policy change, NSPN has created several ongoing initiatives that aim to build capacity and empower early career scientists who cannot find support within their academic institutions. Our first round of microgrants were recently awarded to seven groups nationwide, supporting projects in media, outreach and training. At the symposium, we announced an international policy memo competition and launched another round of microgrants. Moving forward, our goals include the creation of an open-access science policy curriculum and internship opportunities for members of our network.
We are building a community of scientists who recognize the potential of their hard-earned skills in technical thinking and deductive reasoning. This symposium showcases the growing momentum of these future leaders and empowers our members to elevate science policy as a legitimate and valuable career path. We believe that this is a critical step towards a future of evidence-based policymaking and public dialogue. Are you with us?