July 2012

Spearheading science-outreach efforts

Outreach committee members

Lee Gehrke, chairman, Harvard University
Thomas Baldwin, University of California, Riverside
John Kyriakis, Mercury Pharma
Billy Hudson, Vanderbilt University
Mike Klymkowsky, University of Colorado
Jonathan Dattelbaum, University of Richmond
Ed Eisenstein, University of Maryland, Universities at Shady Grove
Robert E. Palazzo, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Hannah Alexander, University of Missouri
Michael Bradley, Yale University
Morgan Thompson, Harvard University

To get in touch with the Public Outreach Committee, please e-mail us at outreach@asbmb.org. Take our outreach survey at http://tinyurl.com/7bwwsvy.

Do friends and family members meet descriptions of your research with blank stares and empty nodding? Do you get frustrated by scientific misinformation in the media? Have you ever wished that everyone who is not a scientist would just get it but been at a loss about how to make it so? Well, now is your chance to do something about it. The American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology has established a brand new Public Outreach Committee whose stated goal is to get ASBMB members involved in science literacy activities across the country.

Efforts to get scientists more involved in public outreach, though not new, traditionally have been seen as secondary, or even detrimental, to scientific research. Yet with scientific issues and topics making their way into political discussions, news stories and even daily conversations, this attitude is shifting. And the scientific enterprise has clearly taken note. At the National Science Foundation, the increased attention being paid to the broader impacts criteria for grant proposals, along with rapidly declining success rates for grant applications, ensure that outreach is a critical — and possibly deciding — factor in determining whether a proposal will be funded. Universities also are starting to incorporate extracurricular activities into performance reviews and tenure decisions. Even the National Academies of Science are getting into the act, recently hosting a two-day seminar called “The Science of Science Communication” that featured speakers who extolled the virtues of interacting with the public while exhorting attendees to become stronger communicators.

So where do professional societies such as the ASBMB fit in? Beyond spreading the message about the importance of outreach through our various communication outlets, the ASBMB is synthesizing the expertise of the members of the Public Outreach Committee, who are all seasoned science outreach experts, into a highly visible program that can be shared with and used by the entire ASBMB community. The committee is working hard to provide exciting opportunities for our members to get involved by establishing partnerships with existing outreach organizations across the country. For example, we are actively looking for volunteers to collaborate with the Science and Entertainment Exchange, a program run by the NAS that pairs Hollywood screenwriters working on scientifically themed treatments with expert scientists to ensure technical accuracy in movies and television shows.

Moreover, we are working on several outlets and activities that will help scientists develop their outreach and science communication skills. We will host a workshop during the 2013 Experimental Biology meeting that will expose attendees to different forms of outreach and facilitate their participation in these activities. We also will be developing a website containing how-to guides for outreach, case studies from outreach experts and a detailed list of outreach activities in your area. Finally, over the next few months, we will be rolling out a series of articles describing different types of outreach activities for you to get involved with, highlighting actual success stories.

But ultimately, the success of this endeavor lies with you, dear reader. It is your participation and energy that will drive our efforts. We need you as volunteers, as organizers and as participants in our efforts. So tell us what issues you want to address. Let us know if a particular group or activity strikes your fancy. Share your outreach experiences with us. If we can harness the enthusiasm and creativity of every ASBMB member, we will be that much closer to the day when scientists and nonscientists can speak the same language.


Photo of Geoff HuntGeoff Hunt (ghunt@asbmb.org) is ASBMB’s outreach coordinator.

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