AAAS Award Encourages Public Engagement by Early Career Researchers

It’s been a busy summer for University of Illinois professor Lynford Goddard. The physics researcher showed off his photonics lab to high school girls and helped them to build a cell phone in an electrical engineering camp, and taught statistics in sports to elementary school students participating in the “Brain Fitness Friday” science camp on campus.

“I enjoy seeing students learn things and find out more about how the world works,” said Goddard, the 2010 recipient of AAAS’s Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science. He remembers his own mentoring as an undergraduate through outreach programs run by the National Society of Black Engineers, “and I wanted to make sure I passed this on to the next generation.”

The AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement with Science recognizes early-career scientists and engineers who demonstrate excellence in their contribution to public engagement with science activities. Endowed with contributions from Bob and Margee Hazen and Alan and Agnes Leshner, along with gifts from other individuals and foundations, the prize is awarded annually to an individual who has excelled in opening up a “two-way conversation” between science experts and the public.

The deadline for applications for the 2011 award is 15 October. Applicants must be researchers who have been in their current fields for less than seven years, at a pre-tenure or job equivalent level. Post-doctoral students are eligible for this award. An applicant’s public engagement activities might include informal science education; public policy outreach; or science communication activities through TV or radio, science cafés, science exhibits, science fairs, and social and online media.



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Lynford Goddard, Alan I. Leshner, and other researchers discuss the importance of public engagement at the 2010 AAAS Family Science Days.

The award winner receives $5000, a commemorative plaque, complimentary registration to the 2012 AAAS Annual Meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, and reimbursement for reasonable hotel and travel expenses to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting to receive the prize.

“It is essential for the scientific community to acknowledge the valuable public outreach done by early-career scientists—work that may go unrecognized by universities or research institutions,” said Tiffany Lohwater, AAAS public engagement manager. “This award highlights individual scientists and engineers who are successfully engaging broader public audiences in dialogue about science in addition to pursuing research careers.”

Goddard said the award has led to new opportunities as a researcher and a science communicator, including an invitation to Indonesia to attend the Kavli Frontiers in Science Symposium and excellent publicity for his department and university.

In a 2011 commentary in the Chronicle of Higher Education, AAAS CEO Alan I. Leshner praised the support Goddard received from his university for his outreach efforts, and encouraged other institutions to promote public engagement by their researchers in the same way they emphasize publication and grant awards.

“I think we should ask the public to help shape the research agenda, and help them figure out with us what we ought to be studying so that we can solve real-world problems,” Leshner said.

Goddard agreed. “When I do these engagement activities,” he said, “the questions that the students ask make me rethink the way that I do my research.”

Links

Find out more about applications and nominations for the AAAS Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science.

Read more about 2010 Early Career Award winner Lynford L. Goddard.

Learn more about supporting the Early Career Award for Public Engagement in Science.