The 21st Century Scientists Working Group was established with a University of Illinois Graduate College Focal Point Grant in 2014.
- Our goal is to change the way we approach the training, professionalization, culture, and careers of science. If the culture of science becomes humane and inclusive we believe public trust and enjoyment of science, as well as increased productivity and innovation in science, will follow.
- Everyone is welcome to our meetings and we welcome collaborating with other local communities, boundary organizations, and campuses.
Engaging with the public should be one of the primary, core missions of a 21st century scientist. As science sections of newspapers disappear and science cable channels turn their attention to reality television, the public face of science is shrinking. Yet many scientists find engagement challenging for three main reasons: 1) a lack of training at the graduate level, 2) little discourse between practicing scientists and those who study and best understand best practices for science communication, and 3) little institutional engagement or incentivizing of science communication for the public. The University of Illinois exceeds its peers in the many local outreach activities it hosts, from Engineering Open House, to Brain Awareness Day, to summer science camps for girls. But what is the overall narrative for these outreach activities, and do they rest on a foundation of best practices research to maximize their effectiveness? How much are these activities used as training opportunities for students? And finally, to what extent does the university promote, laud, or otherwise provide incentives for faculty and students to be involved in public engagement, at the local or national/global level? Our multidisciplinary team of engaged, 21st century scientists have expertise in trade publication of science books, YouTube video how-tos, public radio appearances, science blogging and social media engagement, local outreach activities, and targeted outreach to improve diversity in science.
Over the course of two years, we plan to explore what it means to be a 21st century scientist particularly in the context of best practices for science communicators. We will develop a regular working group to coordinate the considerable local interest in science communication to 1) in the fall semesters provide opportunities for members of the campus community to expand their knowledge of science communication through seminars with experts in the field, 2) develop a late spring conference to encourage engagement with the latest science communication research, including a practicum, and 3) develop a graduate minor in science communication that draws on current and new coursework to help students learn how to understand and negotiate controversy and work with diverse populations, and learn interpersonal and communication skills that best serve the public at local and global levels.
Our project resists the notion that effective and successful scientists are siloed in ivory towers, working ever-greater hours with fewer payoffs in the form of grant money, stable jobs, and career advancement. We contend that a public R1 university should incentivize rebudgeting some of that time towards improving science literacy for all. Public universities should push against increasingly coordinated efforts by certain special interest groups to discredit evolution, climate change, vaccinations, and other major scientific discoveries and foundational knowledge, as anti-science special interest groups depend on widespread science-phobia and inactive, overworked scientists. Public universities, and the University of Illinois in particular, should also use these outreach opportunities to increase the representation of scientists of color and female scientists. Working with I-STEM, we can develop summative and formative evaluation models to assess outcomes to determine the effectiveness with which we then are training our graduate students, and how well our efforts reach and inspire diverse populations.