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Saturday, January 06, 2018

Diplomacy for Scientists | Scientific American (blog)

"Five important skills that early career investigators need to expand their role in advancing how science can serve society" inform Mandë Holford, Associate Professor in Chemistry at Hunter College and CUNY-Graduate Center, with scientific appointments at the American Museum of Natural History and Weill Cornell Medical College and Tolu Oni, Associate Professor and Public Health Physician Specialist/Epidemiologist at the School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town.

Photo: Skynesher Getty Images

Science is one of the best available tools for solving societal challenges—whether they are the 17 agenda items in the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals or finding vaccines for infections such as Zika. To help ensure success, early career academic investigators can play an important role in bridging the gap between science and policy.

We attended the 12th Anniversary of the World Science Forum (WSF) in early November in Jordan, along with the largest-ever group of early career investigators. Scientists, engineers, and technologists attending the meeting were expected to engage with decision makers to shape policy decisions for the benefit of science and society. But learning to be a science diplomat does not just automatically come with the practice of science. Therefore, we have some suggestions for our colleagues looking to communicate with policymakers.

Building Capacity for Science Diplomacy  
How do we build capacity for diplomacy among early career investigators? The recent merger of the International Council of Science and the International Social Science council to form the International Science Council that includes all sciences is a step in the right direction. With all sciences represented, we are in a better position to ensure gender/ racial/and cultural equity across the pipeline from student to leadership. Through the commitment of organizations such as INGSA and AAAS/TWAS pebbles are dropping into a lake to start ripples extending the reach of science diplomats.

For example, in the AAAS/TWAS course in Trieste, early career investigators spend a week learning about the intricacies of science diplomacy, who the players are, and what they can do in their career development to engage with various stakeholders. Similarly, INGSA Africa training workshops have focused on teaching early career scientists about the science policy landscape in Africa, and about the complexities of decision-making using role-play. But more can and should be done.

Building capacity requires an understanding of the evolving needs, barriers and facilitators faced by early career investigators and their ability to bridge science and policy. A recent study of ASEAN early career investigators conducted by the Global Young Academy tried to identify these pressure points. A key barrier, lack of leadership skills training, is being addressed by Science Leadership Programs, which have run in Africa and ASEAN regions.

While these examples speak broadly to the need to build capacity in early career investigators, it is worth noting that these skills are not being learnt from scratch, In fact, there are skills inherent to doing science that are transferrable to science diplomacy. We note here five such transferable skills that early career investigators already cultivate when building their research groups and can apply to attending policy meetings, or to trying to determine if a career in policy is something they want to pursue:

Science Communication. 
Contrary to popular belief, early career investigators spend a great deal of time during their training and in their career development trying to communicate with others. They learn to share knowledge, disseminate results and build consensus at weekly laboratory meeting, at conferences, or via written grant proposals, or manuscripts. But their communication is generally jargon heavy as it’s to other specialists in their field. They need to hone skills by learning high-level pitches that communicate big ideas succinctly and without jargon.

Source: Scientific American (blog)