August 2010

Payback Time

Scientific literacy will be essential for the competitiveness of the U.S. economy going forward. If our students don’t learn the math and science needed for future technological innovation, our economy (and research programs) will fall behind. On May 28, the U.S. House of Representatives passed reauthorization of the America Competes Act; it now awaits action by the Senate. The Act includes text to “encourage all elementary and middle schools to observe a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Day twice in every school year, initiate a program to encourage federal employees with scientific, technological, engineering or mathematical skills to interact with school children on such Days; and promote involvement in such Days by appropriate private sector and institution of higher education employees.”

Part of the Act, titled “Teachers for a Competitive Tomorrow,” states that institutions receiving NSF awards under the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program should “train graduate students in the communication of the substance and importance of their research to nonscientist audiences.” How many of your programs are doing this today?

Our graduate students are hungry for opportunities to try teaching; here is a chance to put them in front of a classroom. They will need mentorship for this. And, as scientists, we will benefit from changing the perception that scientists are disconnected from, or somehow unlike, “regular” people. We can be important role models for children (and adults) who’ve never met a scientist, and we may even inspire a few to pursue careers in science. Public trust in scientists only will come when scientists engage the public and earn their trust. Volunteering now will add much to our credibility when we ask members of the U.S. Congress for their continued support of biomedical research. It’s our turn to step up and make a difference. Will you give an hour this year?

ASBMB President Suzanne Pfeffer (pfeffer@stanford.edu) is a biochemistry professor at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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